Fans all across North America were excited and ready for the 2013-14 NHL season to begin. The days of the prior season's lockout were over and while nobody may have realized it, a new era of hockey would begin. Here's a look back at all this season had to offer.
The Great Outdoors:
The NHL once again went outdoors this season, but on a larger scale than we had seen before. A total of nine teams played outdoors this year in what proved to be some of the most exciting hockey of the season. It started when the Toronto Maple Leafs bested the Detroit Red Wings on New Year's day in Michigan Stadium, directly followed by the naming of the US Men's Olympic Ice Hockey Team. Next, Dodger Stadium played host to a game between California rivals, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks, and the Ducks would blank the Kings 3-0. The following day in the Big Apple, the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils took to the ice which had been set up in Yankee Stadium. The Devils suffered a 7-3 loss. Three days later the Rangers won again outdoors, only this time against the New York Islanders. To close out the Stadium series, two powerhouses faced off in Soldier Field, the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blackhawks dominated and won the game 5-1. The following day played host to the last outdoor game of the year, the Heritage Classic between the Ottawa Seantors and Vancouver Canucks. The Senators beat the Canucks 4-2. In total, close to 270,000 people attended these events, and millions more looked them live. The outdoors shaped this season and will no doubt play host to many other geames in the future.
Special Moments Abound:
This season was host to so many great moments around the NHL. Several players including Martin St. Louis, Alex Ovechkin and Thomas Hertl had four goal games. Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith even got in on the goal scoring, blasting the puck down the ice into Detroit's empty net and then carrying one into his own net a few months later when it fell into the back of his pants. Jaromir Jagr picked up his 700th career goal, and Steven Stamkos blasted his famous one-timer to score his first goal after coming back from a broken leg. The hockey world witnessed Martin St. Louis' 1,000th game ceremony and the emotional skate around Honda Center during Teemu Selanne's last regular season game. New Jersey Devils fans cheered goaltender Martin Brodeur in what might be his last season. The Blackhawks raised their banner to celebrate their latest Stanley Cup win. Henrik Lundqvist and Jonathan Quick became the winningest goaltenders in their respective franchises, and Joel Quennville earned his 700th win as a head coach. The Blue Jackets earned their first ever postseason win and the Kings won their second Stanley Cup in three years. The Canadiens came back from being down 4-1 in a game and won it. Martin Jones started his NHL career by going 8-0-0, and Ben Scrivens made 59 saves to deliver a 3-0 win for the Oilers over the Sharks. Sam Tageson got to be an honoray member of the Sharks for a day with a little help from the Make-A-Wish foundation. Families of the NHL teams that competed outdoors got to skate with the players for a day and enjoy the fun time. Martin St. Louis scored on Mother's Day after losing his mother earlier that week. Daniel Alfredsson was cheered in his return to Ottawa and Vincent Lecavalier was honored as a community hero when he returned to Tampa. This season, like so many others, was filled with many fabulous and memorable moments.
Despite much controversy over whether NHL players should be allowed to participate, the Olympics proved to be an amazing time. While there were many amazing things about the hockey games in Sochi, three big ones stood out.
1. Kristers Gudlevskis and his 55 save performance. Few gave Latvia a shot in the Olympics, even fewer knew who Kristers Gudlevskis was before the quarterfinal game between Latvia and Canada. The game was close, ending 2-1 in Canada's favor, but had Gudlevskis not made those 55 saves, one has to wonder what the score would've been.
2. Canada winning Gold. In the elimination rounds of Olympic hockey, Canada performed amazingly. First beating Latvia in the previously mentioned game, then narrowly beating the US 1-0 and finally taking the gold-medal game 3-0, Canada proved to be better than any opponent they faced as they were undefeated in the preliminary games and the medal games.
3. TJ Oshie and his shootout spectacular. The rivalry between Russia and the United States is rich in history and can be just as intense as any in the NHL. That rivalry took center stage this year as the teams went to a shootout and in the Olympics, it's a little different. Teams are allowed to have the same shooters go as many times as they want. As Pavel Datsyuk and Ilya Kovalchuk took to the ice for Russia, TJ Oshie continued to appear for the US. He shot again, and again, and again. His maneuvers proved to be too much and Team USA won the game.
Finally, the Playoffs:
This year saw the return of the Stars, Avalanche, Flyers, Blue Jackets and Lightning to the postseason. And while none of these teams would advance to the second round, this doesn't mean the postseason was any less thrilling. Many of these teams fought good hard battles and put on quite the show. But other things made this postseason fun to look. The Kings came back from a 3-0 deficit in their first round series against the Sharks and won it i seven games The Wild and Blackhawks played quite the series and Patrick Kane made it even more entertaining. In the Eastern Conference Finals, Canadiens' backup netminder Dustin Tokarski played some of the best hockey of anybody in the postseason. The Stanley Cup Finals were amazing too, and even though the Rangers lost in five games, they still fought, even if most of that fighting came from goalie Henrik Lundqvist. And what a better way to end it than a double overtime game winner, at home, for the Kings.
This season was impressive and fun in so many ways. From the excitement in Russia to the celebration in LA only a few days ago, the 2013-14 season proved to be amazing. If next season is anything like this one, we're in for quite the ride..