Top moments of 2021 discussed by


Feb. 22 — NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe

For a fleeting moment, it was hockey heaven. The sun set behind the Sierra Nevada while the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers played on a rink on the shore of Lake Tahoe. The sky turned shades of orange, yellow and blue, and the ice shone bright white under artificial lights. The deeper the sun sank, the deeper the colors became — burnt orange, pink, purple — until the mountains and lake faded to black. No one wants games without fans, but with attendance restricted amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the League made a dream a reality at the NHL Outdoors at Lake Tahoe. When the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights played Feb. 21 and the Bruins and Flyers followed Feb. 22, it was the closest thing to pure pond hockey we may ever see in the modern NHL, and that sunset might have been the League’s aesthetic apex. “Oh, man,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak said, “it was beautiful.” — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

April 18 — Flyers become Team Lindblom

Hockey Fights Cancer night has taken on more significance for the Philadelphia Flyers after forward Oskar Lindblom survived a battle with Ewing’s sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Lindblom’s teammates showed how much they were in the fight with him when they celebrated the first HFC Night since Lindblom’s diagnosis by wearing his No. 23 jersey during warmups for a game against the New York Islanders. It was the start of a night dedicated to Lindblom, including a video tribute during the first period that nearly brought him to tears. “Just a lot of emotion and tried to take it all in and focus on the game, but it was tough,” he said. “It’s been a tough year, or more than a year. … To be able to be out with this team, it’s amazing.” The Flyers lost 1-0 in overtime, but the result took a backseat to Lindblom being healthy and able to continue a promising NHL career. — Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

Video: NYI@PHI: Players, fans salute Lindblom on HFCN

April 19 — Marleau passes Howe, becomes NHL games played leader

Patrick Marleau played for the San Jose Sharks against the Vegas Golden Knights, but this was different than many of the other games he played over his 23-season NHL career. The forward, who skated in his 1,768th game, a 3-2 shootout loss, passed Gordie Howe for most NHL games played. The Sharks players wore a special logo of his No. 12 on their jerseys and commemorative hoodies, T-shirts, gloves and nameplates were made for the occasion. Even though it was a road game, Marleau received a standing ovation from the crowd at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas during the first stoppage in play. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had a special message for Marleau, who broke Howe’s record which had stood since Nov. 26, 1961. When the game ended, the Golden Knights players lined up to shake hands with Marleau, and his teammates gave him a standing ovation in the locker room. “The emotional roller coaster, it was definitely a long ride,” Marleau said after the game. “I’m very grateful and blessed that I was able to do this with all the support I’ve had over my career. It’s something I’ll never forget.” — David Satriano, staff writer

Video: SJS@VGK: Marleau breaks all-time games played record

May 16 — Kucherov returns to help Lightning win thriller

The Tampa Bay Lightning started their repeat run as Stanley Cup champions with arguably the most exciting game of the 84 played in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, a 5-4 win in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Florida Panthers at Amalie Arena. The building, half-filled because of COVID-19 restrictions, was jumping, with 9,646 in full throat. The first playoff game in the “Sunshine State Rivalry” featured post-whistle scrums, four lead changes, 90 combined hits, 17 penalties with five matching minors and Nikita Kucherov dominating in his return for the Lightning after missing the entire regular season rehabbing from hip surgery. The Panthers had a 2-1 lead after the first period, but Kucherov took over in the second with two power-play goals in less than 10 minutes. The Panthers restored the lead in the first five minutes of the third period, but then Kucherov was at it again, setting up Brayden Point for a game-tying power-play goal at 13:00. Just when it seemed appropriate to start preparing for overtime, Point got loose on a breakaway and scored with 1:14 left to give the Lightning the 5-4 lead. It was exciting and exhausting and the birth of a real rivalry, not one that was created for geography purposes alone. — Dan Rosen, senior writer

Video: TBL@FLA, Gm1: Kucherov powers Lightning’s Game 1 win

May 24 — Connor ends triple-overtime drama for Jets

Kyle Connor ended the longest game of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs when he scored at 6:52 of the third overtime to lift the Winnipeg Jets to a 4-3 victory against the Edmonton Oilers in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup First Round, a game that didn’t end until 1:04 a.m. CT on May 25. Winnipeg’s third straight overtime victory gave it a series sweep against Edmonton. The game was the second of back to back, with Game 3 being played May 23. Other memorable moments were the 62:07 played by Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, the third-most in NHL playoff history since time-on-ice records began in 1997-98, and about 100 flag-waving, horn-honking Jets fans who waited near the exit at Canada Life Centre (then known as Bell MTS Place) until well into the early morning to cheer their heroes for Winnipeg’s first-ever NHL playoff series victory against Edmonton. — Tim Campbell, staff writer

Video: EDM@WPG, Gm4: Connor wins series for Jets in 3rd OT

June 6 — Lafleur aids cancer research with Cup visit

The Stanley Cup came calling on Montreal Canadiens icon Guy Lafleur and “The Flower” had great plans for it. For five months, Lafleur had been undergoing aggressive treatment for lung cancer, often left terribly fatigued and short of breath by chemo and immunotherapy. But I watched one of the most electrifying players of his generation shrug all of that off for a few hours, using the Cup that Sunday afternoon for a purpose much greater than a personal visit. Lafleur posed with dozens of starstruck fans and the trophy he won five times during his Hall of Fame career at a suburban Montreal car dealership to kick into high gear the Guy Lafleur Fund, a cancer research initiative established in March at the Montreal hospital where his treatment continues to this day. In late October, the dealership group presented Lafleur with a donation of $100,000, “The Flower” overjoyed that his own experience with cancer might help improve the lives of others. — Dave Stubbs, columnist

June 23 — Islanders close Coliseum in dramatic fashion

Trailing by a goal and the third period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals more than halfway over, the New York Islanders were on the verge of closing their second chapter at Nassau Coliseum in the worst way possible, another loss to the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their initial home, known for how loud it can be in the postseason, was noticeably quiet. But defenseman Scott Mayfield tied it with a wicked wrist shot from the right circle at 11:16, and Anthony Beauvillier nearly blew the roof off 1:08 into overtime after stealing the puck from Lightning forward Blake Coleman near the right dot for a 3-2 victory. The Islanders couldn’t finish the job — they lost 1-0 at Tampa Bay in Game 7 — but they were able to give their fans one more unforgettable memory in the historic building in Uniondale, New York, before moving down Hempstead Turnpike to their new home, UBS Arena, at the start of this season. — Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

Video: TBL@NYI, Gm6: Beauvillier buries overtime winner

July 2 — Stanley Cup Final returns to Canada and Montreal

The vibe at Bell Centre was electric, and with good reason. Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Lightning and Canadiens marked the first time in 28 years (10,250 days) a Stanley Cup Final game was played in Montreal, dating back to Game 5 of the series between the Canadiens and Los Angeles Kings on June 9, 1993. It had been 10 years (3,670 days) since one was played in Canada dating back to Game 7 of the Vancouver Canucks-Boston Bruins series in Vancouver on June 7, 2011, and the first one ever played at Bell Centre, which opened in 1996. The crowd was limited to 3,500 fans because of COVID-19 protocols in the province of Quebec, but their emotional singing of “O Canada” made it feel like a full house. The Lightning would win the game 6-3, but Canadiens fans got to celebrate three nights later with a 3-2 overtime victory in Game 4 witnessed by legends such as Lafleur, Yvan Cournoyer and Patrick Roy. From a personal standpoint, Game 3 had its own special meaning: it was the first time in 479 days that I was back covering a game in an NHL press box due to COVID-19 protocols. Man, it was so amazing to be back! — Mike Zeisberger, staff writer

Video: TBL@MTL, Gm3: Sylvestre, fans sing Canadian anthem

July 7 — Lightning win second straight Stanley Cup championship

It felt almost inevitable, just as it had the year before. The Lightning, at the end of another strange, unpredictable and COVID-19-marked season, captured the Stanley Cup, making it two in a row for coach Jon Cooper’s team. The celebration was raucous, joyous, different than it had been in 2020, at the end of a slog through the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton. This time, the Lightning players celebrated at home, at Amalie Arena, with family and friends in attendance, after an Andrei Vasilevskiy shutout in Game 5 against the Canadiens. “It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup,” captain Steven Stamkos said after the game. “And then you do it two years in a row. You deserve to go down in history.” That moment will. This team will. From Vasilevskiy’s mastery to Kucherov’s scoring prowess to Stamkos’s sheer presence, it was brilliant to watch. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: Lightning skate with Stanley Cup after Game 5 win

July 21 — Kraken get their men

On a picture-perfect summer day overlooking Lake Union and the skyline of the city, the Seattle Kraken finally came to life with the selection of 30 players during a 2021 NHL Expansion Draft in front of 4,000 fans at Gas Works Park. The crowd at the sold-out event hooted and hollered as each name was revealed as part of the inaugural roster. Seattle picked one player from 30 of the 31 NHL teams, the Vegas Golden Knights, who entered the NHL in the 2017-18 season, were exempt from having a player chosen. Defenseman Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames was the biggest name among those selected (he would soon be named Kraken captain). “When you first see the picks, it’s amazing how many good players are available around the League,” Giordano said. “A ton of young talent, obviously, coming into the lineup. Like we saw in Vegas, there’s an extremely large amount of players who are great players who were available, and I think it was a great start today and we’ll see what happens over the next couple of months.” It was indeed a great start — in an unforgettable location — for the Kraken. — Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial

Video: Top moments from Seattle Kraken expansion draft

July 23 — Luke Hughes drafted by Devils

When Luke Hughes was selected No. 4 in the 2021 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils, it marked the first time an American family had three siblings selected in the first round of the NHL Draft. Luke joined his brother, center Jack Hughes, who was selected No. 1 by the Devils in the 2019 NHL Draft. Quinn Hughes, a defenseman, was selected No. 7 by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2018 NHL Draft. When Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald announced the selection of Luke, cameras in the Hughes household caught Jack leaping into his brother’s arms with much excitement. “It’s a dream come true to play in the NHL,” Luke said. “It’s also a dream come true to play with your brother, and both of those things are happening.” During Luke’s video conference with reporters, he marked the occasion by wearing his older brother’s No. 86 New Jersey sweater. “It’s an awesome, awesome (day), it’s a great pick for our team,” Jack said. “[We’re] getting a great player. But I’m just a proud older brother right now.” — Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

Video: New Jersey Devils draft D Luke Hughes No. 4

Sept. 29 — Toews returns for Blackhawks

The first preseason game usually isn’t a big newsmaker, but it was when Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews played for the first time in more than a year in a 4-3 loss to the Detroit Red Wings at United Center. Toews missed the 2020-21 season with chronic immune response system. He played 22:48 against the Red Wings, the most of any forward in the game, had an assist and scored in the shootout. The 33-year-old center hadn’t played since Aug. 18, 2020, when he scored in a 4-3 loss to the Golden Knights in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round. Toews said afterward that it had been “a bit of a road” getting to this point and he felt a little lost defensively in the first period, but it was nevertheless a great return. — Tracey Myers, staff writer

Video: Toews on first preseason game

Oct. 3 — Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020

El Paso, Texas, waited a year due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus for the NHL preseason game that was part of its prize for winning Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020. But the Arizona Coyotes and Dallas Stars didn’t disappoint when they finally played before a raucous and appreciative crowd at El Paso County Events Center, a former cow palace-turned skating rink. The Stars defeated the Coyotes 6-3 to cap a Hockeyville weekend that was a celebration and a statement about the love of hockey at the U.S.-Mexico border. A mariachi band serenaded the Stanley Cup while it was on display at downtown’s San Jacinto Plaza. Fans circled the block to pose for pictures with the Cup, many of them visibly moved that the trophy was in their city. “To me, it means hockey loves everybody,” El Paso resident Lia Pina said. “Hockey is universal love. It doesn’t matter what color you are.”  — William Douglas, staff writer

Video: Kraft Hockeyville: El Paso, TX

Oct. 13 — Ovechkin moves into fifth on NHL goals list, chats with Gretzky

Alex Ovechkin scored four points (two goals, two assists) for the Washington Capitals in their 5-1 win against the New York Rangers on opening night, passing Marcel Dionne for fifth on the NHL goals list (732). As Ovechkin continued his pursuit of Wayne Gretzky’s goals record (894), he stopped by the NHL on TNT postgame show for a memorable interview with the panel, which included a question from “The Great One” himself. It was the first regular-season broadcast of Turner Sports’ seven-year agreement to televise NHL regular-season and playoff games on TNT and TBS, and it was special to see Ovechkin deliver on the big stage and then share the moment with the fellow NHL legend he’s chasing. — Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Video: Gretzky interviews Ovechkin, talks passing Dionne

Nov. 5 — McDavid is one-man wrecking crew for Oilers

There are times it feels like Connor McDavid can defeat another team all by himself, and on the night the Oilers retired the number of defenseman Kevin Lowe, the electrifying center pretty much did that against the Rangers. New York had actually held McDavid in check for the first 57 minutes of the game, limiting him to one assist, and led 5-4 in the final minutes at Rogers Place in Edmonton, but the sleeping giant awoke to stun the Rangers, the Oilers and anyone else watching. McDavid got the puck in the neutral zone, wheeled around for a second waiting for his teammates to tag up, seemingly plotting his next move. The Rangers attempted a line change, leaving them four skaters on the ice, all at or close to the blue line. That’s when McDavid attacked, blowing past Kevin Rooney, Dryden Hunt and Jacob Trouba with his first two strides. He then puck-handled around an overmatched Patrik Nemeth and deked goalie Alexandar Georgiev, finishing the amazing goal with a backhand. The Oilers would go on to win the game in overtime on a goal by Leon Draisaitl, but the McDavid goal was all anyone was talking about. “I think it’s the best goal I’ve ever seen,” Oilers forward Zach Hyman said. — Bill Price, VP, editor-in-chief

Video: NYR@EDM: McDavid slices through defense to tie game

Dec. 7 — Zegras’ lacrosse-style assist for Ducks

Trevor Zegras stunned the hockey world and also blew his own mind when he pulled off a lacrosse-style assist on Sonny Milano‘s winning goal in the second period of the Anaheim Ducks’ 2-0 victory against the Buffalo Sabres. It was only two seasons ago when Andrei Svechnikov of the Carolina Hurricanes became the first to score a lacrosse-style goal in the NHL (and then did it again), but Zegras took it to the next level by picking the puck up on his stick blade behind the Sabres net and lobbing it over the net and left shoulder of goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Stationed in front, Milano completed the spectacular play by batting the puck into the net out of mid-air. “Like I still can’t believe it worked,” Zegras said. “It’s pretty funny. I’ve tried it a couple times and haven’t even come close, and for him to whack it out of the air and keep it under the crossbar is pretty incredible.” — Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Video: ANA@BUF: Zegras lobs unreal pass for Milano

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