The best, most jaw-dropping saves of 2018 (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.

Goalies. They’re a hockey team’s last refuge.

They’re tasked with what seems impossible at times. Saving hard, rubber pucks flying at blistering, dangerous speeds. The pads and other equipment are only getting smaller yet these brave souls choose to stand in harm’s way.

It’s admirable, above all else.

Goalies are the most important part of a hockey team. Most of the saves they make throughout the course of a season are routine. Flick the right pad out here, throw the glove the hand there.

But some… go above and beyond the call of duty. Some saves shouldn’t be saves at all. They defy logic. Sometimes physics, too. And we’re left only to watch in amazement and marvel at the replays.

And so while we approach the end of 2018, we look back at some of the most incredible saves of the past year.

There’s no particular order for these. Many of them are equally incredible in their own right and deserve to lauded as such.

The first we will see here is Marc-Andre Fleury being, well, Marc-Andre Fleury. Claude Giroux should have scored. He didn’t because of MAF.

Some saves are not only incredible but should be given a primary assist because, without them, the chance to score would simply vanish.

Colorado Avalanche goalie Jonathan Bernier‘s paddle save on Ryan Kesler was tremendous in and of itself, and then it led to a goal by Nathan MacKinnon.

Goalies often have to make quick saves in succession.

A couple of quick shots or perhaps a shot and a save off the ensuing rebound.

Things like that.

In November, Carolina Hurricanes puck stopper Scott Darling robbed Anthony Mantha of a hat trick and then Mike Green of a game winner back to back in overtime.

November was a good month for saves that can’t be explained.

Calvin Peterson isn’t a household name (probably not even to Los Angeles Kings fans), but his save on Loui Eriksson was so dirty that he changed all that with one twist of his body and flash of his glove.

The two-pad stack is a thing of beauty.

Throughout the history of the NHL, there have been some insane variations of it all with the same ending: a jaw-dropping save and a dejected shooter.

Henrik Lundqvist appears here as the perpetrator. Evan Rodrigues is the poor victim.

David Pastrnak has a knack (get it?) for scoring goals.

He’s carving out a nice career doing so thus far.

But in the Stanley Cup Playoffs he had a sure goal snatched off the goal line by the paddle of Freddie Andersen.

Highway robbery in the worst degree.

Braden Holtby produced some magic last season, but arguably his best save of his career came in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

With the Caps down one game in the series and leading 3-2 in the game, Holtby came to the rescue after a bad bounce of the stanchion at T-Mobile Arena.

Alex Tuch‘s look of horror said it all.

Alex Ovechkin‘s relief did, too.

Of all the best saves this season, none was more important — and arguably better looking — than the one Holtby delivered in Game 2.

* * * * *

Of course, the NHL is only one breeding ground for great saves. There are leagues across the world that produce the same quality.

The first save was good. The second was stellar. The third was just embarrassing for the team on offense:

I’ve said it before (probably above) and I’ll say it again, paddle saves are the best saves.

Here’s a beauty from the BCHL:

Some goalies don’t get a save-of-the-year candidate in their career.

Kyle Keyser of the OHL’s Oshawa Generals got two in four days.

Paddles, man.

Paddles.

PHT’s Sean Leahy did a whole post on this save.

Again with the paddle. But holy moly, this is bananas.

No Russian translation required.

And don’t forget to watch the Top 18 saves of the season from NBC Sports.

More PHT Year in Review:
• Bloopers
Moments

Goals
Players

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

Rasmus Sandin
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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.

Back with Wild, Fleury welcomes big workload as clear No. 1

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — With his ever-present smile, tireless approach and long list of accomplishments in the net, Marc-Andre Fleury has always embraced a heavy workload.

The Minnesota Wild sure haven’t shied away from leaning hard on their new – and 37-year-old – goalie. After arriving in a deadline-day trade in March and re-signing with the Wild in July, the guy everyone calls “Flower” is still fully abloom as he begins his 19th season in the NHL.

“They say, `You play,’ I play, unless maybe I’m hurt or something,” Fleury said. “But other than that, I like playing.”

Wild general manager Bill Guerin initially planned to bring back both Fleury and Cam Talbot, who made the All-Star team and went 13-0-3 in his last 16 regular season starts before being benched in favor of Fleury for the first-round playoff series against St. Louis. The Wild lost in six games, after Talbot got the cold start in the elimination game and gave up four goals on 26 shots.

Guerin changed his mind, though, after signing Fleury to a two-year, $7 million contract. Realizing Talbot’s frustration from the lack of postseason action, he didn’t want to risk any tension or discontent. Talbot was traded to Ottawa for Filip Gustavsson, who will be the No. 2 goalie while top prospect Jesper Wallstedt gets more development in the AHL.

Gustavsson has only 23 career regular-season starts, nearly 200 fewer than Talbot, so it’s a good bet that Fleury will get the majority of the games.

“I was ready to share the load with him, but things didn’t work out and happy to be having the chance to play maybe a bit more. It’s fun to play. It’s more fun than sitting on the bench,” said Fleury, who went 28-23-5 in 56 combined starts for Chicago and Minnesota last season with a 2.90 goals against average and a .908 save percentage.

The Wild reconvened for training camp last week, beginning their quest to recapture the mojo they enjoyed last season while setting franchise records for points (113), wins (53) and goals (305). The only team that finished ahead of them in the Western Conference was Colorado, which went on to win the Stanley Cup, but they never met the Avs in the playoffs because the Blues got to them first.

There’s a strong chemistry in place, at least, to build upon.

“We still have a lot of guys here who were here last year. We’re just trying to make it even better, just trying to listen to everybody,” center Joel Eriksson Ek said. “We want to set a standard and a way for how hard this team’s going to work.”

The Wild start the regular season by hosting the New York Rangers on Oct. 13.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

The most significant roster move of the summer amongst the skaters was the inevitable salary-cap-driven trade of second-leading scorer Kevin Fiala to Los Angeles. Fiala had a career-high 33 goals and 52 assists last season. Guerin otherwise dabbled mostly in two-way contracts in free agency for depth. Former Anaheim center Sam Steel signed with Minnesota last month, one day after defenseman Dimitry Kulikov was dealt to the Ducks.

MORE POWER

The Wild were done in during the playoffs by abysmal special teams. They went just 4 for 24 on the power play against the Blues, and head coach Dean Evason had the team working on that on the first day on the ice. The penalty kill that lagged last season was a focus of the second practice.

“It has to get better, no question,” Evason said.

BLUE LINE SHUFFLE

Captain Jared Spurgeon has been placed with Jonas Brodin on the first pair on defense, and Jake Middleton has joined Matt Dumba on the second unit. Dumba and Brodin are close friends who’ve been paired together for several seasons.

“Dumbs is a shooter too,” said Middleton, who re-signed for three years and $7.35 million. “It’s pretty exciting. I can get some cookies passing him the puck. That’d be a big plus. I think it’ll work well. He loves hitting guys too. He plays a gritty game as well so I think we’ll be a good combo.”

UP FRONT

With Jordan Greenway recovering from offseason surgeries, Tyson Jost will get the first chance to skate with Eriksson Ek and Marcus Foligno. The departure of Fiala has opened at least one spot for a rookie to make the team, with 2020 first-round draft pick Marco Rossi in line for it.

ON THE SLATE

This is the first time in eight years the Wild will play their regular-season opener at home. After three more games at Xcel Energy Center, they don’t hit the road until a five-game trip that starts Oct. 22 at Boston. The Wild have a season-long nine-game homestand from Feb. 9-21.