Looking back at 2018’s top hockey moments (PHT Year In Review)

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Pro Hockey Talk is taking a look back at the year in hockey. We’ll be presenting you with the best goals, saves, moments, players and more as we remember 2018.

It was an eventful year across the hockey world with several memorable moments that stood out.

Some of them were amazing and improbable. Some of them were sad and devastating. Some of them were just plain weird.

Here we take a look at some of the ones that stood out the most.

Capitals Stanley Cup and summer of celebration

After years of tremendous regular season success and eventual playoff heartbreak, the Washington Capitals finally broke through their second round glass ceiling, exorcised all of their postseason demons, beat their arch-rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then went on to win their first ever Stanley Cup. By doing so they shook their postseason choker label and Alex Ovechkin picked up the one piece of hardware his Hall of Fame career was missing. Then the Capitals partied like wild throughout the entire summer and lived up their championship season publicly in a way few other teams have in recent years.

Then they came back at the start of the 2018-19 season as good as they were a year ago, with Ovechkin performing at an even higher level.

[Related: Alex Ovechkin is not slowing down]

U.S. Women’s Olympic hockey team wins gold

The United States women won gold for the second time at the Olympics, and the first time since 1998, with a thrilling gold medal game victory against Canada that needed a shootout to determine a winner.

It was there that Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson scored the winner on an incredible move, with Maddie Rooney making the big save to clinch it.

You can watch the entire shootout again.

Scott Foster plays for the Chicago Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have fallen off from their championship dynasty days and are on track to miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. The highlight of their 2017-18 season was the performance of emergency backup goalie Scott Foster who was called on to play 14 minutes in a game against the Winnipeg Jets. He not only played, he stopped all seven shots he faced against one of the best teams in the league.

Foster, 36, spends his days as an accountant and was called on to suit up when Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg suffered an injury in warmups.

The emergency backup goalie is something you see on occasion throughout an NHL season but they almost never have to play. When Collin Delia, who was making his first NHL start for the Blackhawks that night, exited the game with an injury … Foster had to play. He was incredible.

[Related: Scott Foster, accountant by day makes saves with Blackhawks]

Roberto Luongo‘s speech

Not all of the top moments from 2018 were the result of something happy. Following another school shooting, this time in Parkland, Florida, Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo, a resident of Parkland, gave an emotional pre-game speech before their Feb. 22 game against the Capitals.

The Humboldt Broncos first game back on the ice

The hockey world was rocked by tragedy on April 6 when a bus carrying the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team crashed, killing 16 people (including 10 players) and seriously injuring 13 more. In the weeks after the accident there were countless memorials and tributes, including people across Canada and the United States leaving hockey sticks out on their front porch. Five months after the crash the Broncos returned to the ice, with two surviving players from the accident (Brayden Camrud and Derek Patter). The game was televised nationally throughout Canada on TSN and in the United States on the NHL Network without commercials. The Broncos ended up losing their first game, 2-1, on their way to a 21-13-2 record in 37 games.

The team officially retired the numbers of every player that was involved in the bus crash.

[Related: Humboldt Broncos return to ice five months after bus crash]

Sedins’ last game in Vancouver

After 17 glorious seasons Henrik and Daniel Sedin retired at the conclusion of the 2017-18 season. They went out in an incredible way by teaming up, as they did so many times throughout their careers, for the game-winning goal in overtime of their final game in Vancouver.

It was Daniel getting the goal, his second of the game.

They played one more game after that, a road game in Edmonton, that they dropped in a shootout.

Willie O’Ree finally gets his Hall of Fame call

It was long overdue, but the Hockey Hall of Fame finally did the right thing by inducting Willie O’Ree into the builders category.

O’Ree, who is legally blind in his right eye, broke the NHL’s color barrier during the 1957-58 season as a member of the Boston Bruins. His playing career at the NHL level consisted of just four goals and 10 assists over 45 games, but he was still one of the game’s most influential figures and a legend for the Los Angeles Blades and San Diego Gulls of the Western Hockey League.

[What Willie O’Ree’s Hall of Fame induction means to me]

All Gritty, all the time

Some of the hockey moments from 2018 were also … bizarre. Like the introduction of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers’ new mascot who has already become one of the most notable and recognizable mascots in the league. Whether you love or hate Gritty (and if you hate Gritty, it will probably hunt you down and tackle you) you have to admit that his introduction created quite a buzz around the sports world.

[Related: Meet Gritty, the Flyers’ horrifyingly delightful new mascot]

The NHL had to tell Brad Marchand to stop licking people

Speaking of bizarre moments, Boston Bruins star forward and Hall of Fame agitator Brad Marchand had to be reprimanded by the NHL for licking opponents during the playoffs. After licking Toronto’s Leo Komarov in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the second time during the season that he did that to Komarov) he did the same thing to Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ryan Callahan in the second round. The NHL had to tell him to stop, threatening supplemental discipline if he did not.

Germany’s silver medal at the Olympics

The 2018 men’s Olympic hockey tournament did not feature NHL players for the first time since the 1994 games, but that did not mean the tournament was without its excitement. It gave a bunch of players that wouldn’t have ordinarily had a chance to play on such a stage an opportunity to make a name for themselves, and no team took advantage of that more than the German team that went on an incredible run to the Gold medal game. And for a while, it looked like they were actually going to pull it off until a late goal from Russia sent the game to overtime, where the Russians would end up winning on a power play goal from Kirill Kaprizov.

What was your top hockey moment from the past year?

More PHT Year in Review:
Bloopers

Saves
Goals
Players

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Sabres fans are fed up with losing, and so is Jack Eichel

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While 24 NHL teams aim to return to play, the Buffalo Sabres will not. Despite seeing a league-leading playoff drought extend to nine consecutive seasons, the Sabres confirmed that GM Jason Botterill will be back. This all translates to deeply frustrating times for Sabres fans — not to mention star Jack Eichel.

And both Eichel and those Sabres fans made some waves with the way they aired their grievances.

Eichel and other Sabres are “fed up with losing”

Eichel, Rasmus Ristolainen, and other Sabres vented during recent days. In Eichel’s case, he admitted that he’s “fed up with losing.” When you listen to Eichel, you can hear that mixture of fatigue and anger.

Eichel carries a lot of the burden as the Sabres’ biggest star. Yet, as much as Eichel’s suffered through five years of failures, Rasmus Ristolainen absorbed even more over seven. Rumors circulated that Ristolainen wanted out last summer, and he only (kind of) calmed things down later on.

Maybe that sets the stage for some eyebrow-raising comments? Ristolainen told reporters that he realizes that if someone gets traded, he might be the first to go. The defenseman also acknowledged how comments about building toward the future must make everyone sound like a broken record.

No doubt, missing the postseason in such an embarrassing way has to sting Sabres players like Eichel and Ristolainen. The angst also makes it more awkward for Botterill to try to say all the right things.

With cap space opening up and huge needs still lingering, this is a huge offseason for the Sabres. It also could be a long one in a more literal way, if the 2020-21 season starts in, say, December. Clearly, plenty of Sabres players won’t be feeling very patient if the team suffers through another stretch of setbacks.

Fans share discontent — sometimes creatively

It’s clear — and it’s been clear for a while — that Sabres fans are out of patience, too. (Remember Duane?)

Sabres fan Jill Thompson put the team “up for sale” on Craigslist. While the listing was not very surprisingly removed, Thompson shared a screenshot of it on Twitter:

Thompson wrote this in the listing:

For Sale: NHL Hockey Franchise
Team: Buffalo Sabres
Available: ASAP

*Lost team with diehard fanbase looking for wealthy owner who actually understands hockey*

Organization on the cheap. Could be flipped. Major structural damage but few core pieces still in tact.

Non-Negotiable Terms:
-Franchise must stay in current city and is ineligible for relocation.
-Immediate family (i.e. wife) is not eligible for internal position within the organization
-Must provide “team puppy”

Not crazy about the “immediate family” barb personally, but otherwise? Pretty good. Really, all 31 NHL teams should have at least one puppy.

Thompson explained the listing to the Buffalo News, and capturing the mood of many Sabres fans in the process:

“When I post about the Sabres on Twitter, it’s sadly in a negative light and that is because I am upset for the level of disrespect/lack of accountability/neglect of everything down to the smallest details that we are shown from the owners,” Thompson wrote to the Buffalo News. “As one of the most loyal fan bases in all of sports, we deserve better.”

With serious questions lingering regarding goaltending, defense, and forward depth, the Sabres have a long way to go to turn things around. And they might not have a ton of time to win back fans like Thompson.

More on the Sabres

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NBCSN’s Hockey Happy Hour: Beleskey helps Ducks’ winning ways in 2015

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This week’s Hockey Happy Hour on NBCSN will feature four notable milestone and record performances.

In the first-ever playoff meeting between these two teams, the series was tied at two games apiece heading into Game 5. Jonathan Toews of Chicago forced an overtime period when he scored two goals with under two minutes left in regulation, but Anaheim’s Matt Beleskey scored the winning goal in overtime for the 5-4 win. With the victory, the Ducks improved to 11-3 in the 2015 postseason, tying the NHL record for the most consecutive games to begin the playoffs without a regulation loss.

Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti and Brian Engblom had the call from Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

Thursday, May 28 on NBCSN
• Blackhawks vs. Ducks (2015 Western Conference Final, Game 5) – 5 p.m. ET

Programming will also stream on NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Happy Hour can be found here.

LA Kings hope late-season surge indicates brighter future

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s hottest team before the coronavirus pandemic ended the regular season prematurely. They’re hoping they can eventually build on that success whenever they get back on the ice.

The team with the NHL’s longest active winning streak won’t get a chance to extend it this season, thanks to the league’s decision this week to limit its playoff tournament to 24 teams. The Kings’ seven straight victories before the stoppage comprised the franchise’s best stretch since December 2017, and it had even pulled them out of last place in the Pacific Division.

The Kings haven’t lost a game since Feb. 23, and their 10-3-1 surge prior to the pause suggests coach Todd McLellan’s work was finally paying off after Los Angeles mostly struggled through the first four months of a rebuilding season. The Kings’ only public comment on the abrupt end came in a statement from team President Luc Robitaille.

”It’s unfortunate that our season has concluded, but we fully understand this was necessary and support the decision,” Robitaille said. ”At the time of the pause, we had made considerable progress in the second half and were seeing positive results and encouraging signs for the future. We’ll now turn our attention to the NHL draft and player development so that we can continue building our organization for long-term success.”

Despite their late success, the Kings already were all but certain to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009.

Even after two straight disappointing seasons, Robitaille, general manager Rob Blake and McLellan all appear to be secure in their jobs and locked in on a long-term plan to return the Kings to Stanley Cup contention.

Los Angeles won the trophy twice in three years before entering a slow decline caused by massive veteran contracts and unimpressive talent development, culminating in the struggles that finally showed signs of ending before the coronavirus upended everyone’s plans.

”If we had a chance to finish the season, we’d want to finish the season,” Robitaille said earlier this month. ”Especially the fact that we have a lot of young players, it’s always good experience for them to play.”

CORE GUYS

A championship-winning veteran core remains in Los Angeles, but the Kings must decide whether to keep it together for another year. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are all still-productive players locked into big contracts, but Blake knows it’s time to repair the foundation of his franchise to rebuild a winner. Blake values the leadership and experience of those veterans along with longtime depth forward Trevor Lewis, who is the Kings’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent. Los Angeles already parted ways with stalwart supporting players Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford in February, and while it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect big changes given the contract obstacles, Blake would be foolish not to consider more ways to get younger and more financially flexible.

FIND THE NET

The Kings were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams again this season, with Kopitar’s 21 goals and 41 assists easily leading the roster in both categories. Los Angeles had only five 10-goal scorers, while only Kopitar and Alex Iafallo topped 40 points. Despite their offensive struggles, Blake saw progress in the Kings’ implementation of McLellan’s system. ”Clearly we wanted to be a strong-shooting team, a team that got pucks to the net, recovered pucks well and generated offense off that,” Blake said. ”I think the year-end review showed that.”

PING PONG BALLS

The Kings have a 9.5% chance of winning the top pick in the complicated draft lottery this summer. For a franchise that hasn’t drafted a star since Doughty in 2008, a high pick would be an enormous boost. The Kings’ draft carries an added degree of difficulty with the departure of assistant general manager Michael Futa, whose contract expires in June. Still, Los Angeles is in prime position to add another elite talent to a solid pool of prospects including first-rounder Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo and Tyler Madden.

HIGHLIGHTS

Iafallo’s transformation from an undrafted free agent to a consistent NHL scorer in less than three years has been a rare bright spot for the Kings’ recent record of player acquisitions. Ditto for Sean Walker, an undrafted defenseman who played his way into a regular NHL role. Walker’s 24 points this season nearly matched the prolific Doughty, who had 28.

LOWLIGHTS

Carter has two more years left on his 10-year contract extension, but Blake said earlier this month that the 35-year-old veteran scorer wouldn’t have been able to return from his mysterious core injury even if the NHL season had continued for the Kings. And though Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ fifth-leading scorer, his inconsistency aggravated the front office and coaching staff. The Swede will strive for steadier production in the years ahead.

Killorn, Lightning jet ski their way to NHL return in ‘Bolts are Back’

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During some of the dog days of the pandemic pause, Alex Killorn gathered Lightning teammates for some tremendous-cheesy “Dock Talk” videos. It only makes sense, then, that he gathered the gang (“the boys?”) for the best segment yet to celebrate the NHL’s return to play. Yes, the “Bolts are back,” indeed.*

* – In small groups

Killorn, Steven Stamkos, and other Lightning teammates celebrated this announcement — on jet skis, with humor — to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are back in town.”

(Warning: that song will probably get in your head if you watch the video above. Maybe it already is?)

Enjoy some of the best moments of Killorn’s great “Bolts are back” video.

Splashy highlights of Killorn, Stamkos, other Lightning players in “Bolts are back”

Killorn makes his “directorial debut” with an honestly very nice overhead pool shot. The video starts strong with Stamkos and Killorn being goofy on their jet skis.

Stamkos "Bolts are Back"
What, Stamkos didn’t spring for fancy airpods? (via Killorn)

In a moment of poor sportsmanship/skismanship, an unnamed Bruin (or, most likely, someone wearing a Bruins shirt?) gets splashed. Figure this one out, Internet. I believe this is the same person who gets dumped in the water (while wearing a Maple Leafs shirt?) later on?

Bruins guy in "Bolts are Back"
Well, that’s rude. (via Killorn)

While there’s plenty of room for debate, I’d argue that Andrei Vasilevskiy (aka “Big Cat”) earns the nod for best cameo. We catch him lifting weights, and grunting something — maybe “you’re the man?” — before spotting his Lightning pals.

Vasilevskiy Big Cat "Bolts are Back"
Do goalies need to be that ripped? Asking for Dominik Hasek. (via Killorn)

Like many great filmmakers, Killorn tackles class when he features Lightning teammate Anthony Cirelli in one of the more memorable sequences of “Bolts are Back.” Notice that Cirelli (“Rocco”) is waiting tables before being summoned. You see, Cirelli is on an entry-level contract. Is his artificially deflated contract being referenced by Killorn?

Clearly.

Judging by Cirelli abandoning his duties, it’s not only good that the Bolts are back, and so seemingly is the NHL. It’s also promising that Cirelli’s due a raise as a pending RFA.

Other cast members

Not every appearance was as strong as a grunting big cat. Then again, maybe it boils down to repeat viewings, because Mikhail Sergachev‘s fanny pack and cat moved up the power rankings over time:

Sergachev cat
Almost a dog-like pose? Not complaining. (via Killorn)

Clearly, Braydon Coburn and/or Killorn are well-schooled on action movie tropes. At least, that’s my headcanon for Coburn being interrupted while cutting wood. Doesn’t that happen in every thriller involving a reluctantly returning hero? Anyway, Coburn joining the group with an open shirt earns one of the bigger laughs:

Braydon Coburn cameo
Alrighty then, “Kobayashi.” (via Killorn)

Killorn isn’t yet at that “obsessive auteur director” level just yet, as I imagine a control freak would have been maddened by the imperfect skiing V:

imperfect V "Bolts are back"
Maddening. (via Killorn)

(Seriously, who is the straggler? Could Cirelli’s jet ski not keep up? Class rears its ugly head again.)

Killorn ties it all together with another great joke: “The Bolts are back” — in small groups.

"Bolts are Back" -- in small groups
(via Killorn)

Killorn actually might be right about the whole “breakout influencer of the year” thing, honestly.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.