Monday December 22nd, 2014

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10. Panthers 2, Capitals 1 (12/6)

Florida’s Willie Mitchell and Washington’s Karl Alzner learned something about themselves in this one: They are literally the last players their coaches will call on in a shootout. But on this record-setting night, neither Panthers coach Gerard Gallant nor his Capitals counterpart, Barry Trotz, had any choice. They had to call on the two veteran defensemen as the 18th shooters in a record-setting shootout. And when Mitchell and Alzner failed (not surprisingly), the epic battle went on for two more rounds of repeat shooters—the first time that had ever happened in an NHL game—before Nick Bjugstad finally secured the extra point for Florida and cemented his place in hockey lore with a jaw-dropping deke that beat Braden Holtby for the winner.

The 18-minute struggle of skills saw the Capitals take five leads and the Panthers respond every time. It also set new marks for most goals (11), most goals by a single team (Florida, 6) and most saves by a goaltender (Roberto Luongo, 15) while reminding everyone that the shootout can make for a great spectacle.

9. Maple Leafs 3, Red Wings 2 (1/1)

Frigid temperatures, heavy snow and epic traffic jams are probably the lingering memories for anyone who endured this contest in person at the Big House in Ann Arbor on New Year’s Day. For the rest of us, this Original Six clash was a pointed reminder of how great it is to watch the Winter Classic from the warmth of our homes.

More than five inches of snow fell during the course of the day, which kept a massive team of shovelers on constant duty throughout the game. Lengthy periods of rink maintenance after each whistle and during intermission extended the game’s duration to nearly three and a half hours. But even with the ice a bit sluggish, the two teams put on a terrific show, with Toronto eventually prevailing in a shootout.

“It felt like you were going back in time,” the Maple Leafs’ Jay McClement said. “With our [retro] jerseys and playing outside, it was old-school. The snow didn’t let up, so there was nothing you could do. It just added to the whole experience.”

8. Kings 5, Rangers 4 (6/7)

Los Angeles had already shown itself to be resilient in the first three rounds of the 2014 playoffs, but this was the Kings’ finest hour. After falling behind 2–0, 3–1 and 4–2 to the Rangers, L.A. battled back to secure a thrilling double-OT victory in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals.

Staring down that 4–2 deficit in the final period, Dwight King ignited the comeback with a tip-in that might have been benefited from a bit of contact with New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist in the crease. After that, the Kings took over, with Marian Gaborik tying the game at 7:36 of the third. The two teams traded chances in the final moments and as the game entered sudden death. Rangers forward Chris Kreider had a pair of Grade-A opportunities to win the game, including on a breakaway, but couldn’t solve L.A. goalkeeper Jonathan Quick.

Ultimately, it was Kings’ captain Dustin Brown who redirected a Willie Mitchell shot from the point past Lundqvist at 10:26 of the second OT to seal the win.

“It's not the place we want to be, to have to climb out all the time,” Mitchell said. “Sooner or later, it is going to bite you. I guess the great part about it is we find a way to battle back.”

7. Canada 2, Latvia 1 (2/19)

“That was one of the best goaltending performances I’ve ever seen,” said Canada’s Carey Price moments after his team was almost singlehandedly shoved out of the Olympic tournament by Latvia’s Kristers Gudlevskis. “That was heroic.”

It was perhaps the single greatest performance by any player in 2014: a 55-save effort that rose to the Olympic ideal and lifted Gudlevskis’ tiny, hockey-mad nation to the brink of its greatest sporting victory.

It wasn’t to be, of course, although Gudlevskis, a 21-year-old Lightning prospect, did everything in his power to make it so. Canada spent almost the entire game in Latvia’s end, forcing Gudlevskis to make a string of remarkable stops against the world’s best players. Sidney Crosby was in alone twice. Patrick Sharp had a sure goal on his stick. Chris Kunitz, too. Gudlevskis turned them all aside.

Ultimately, Shea Weber’s power-play goal with about seven minutes to go in the third period gave Canada the win and a berth in the semifinals against the U.S. In victory, the Canadians were quick to honor the man who almost knocked them out. “You have to give him credit,” said Duncan Keith. “He made some big saves.”

6. Canadiens 5, Senators 5 (3/15)

Holding a 4–1 lead over Montreal with a little more than four minutes remaining in regulation, Ottawa was on the verge of claiming two desperately needed points for its playoff push.

And then the Canadiens ripped the hearts out of the Senators.

The Senators had taken control of the game with dominant second and third periods, but Montreal found its spark late in the final frame after a pair of bouts in which Brandon Prust fought Milan Michalek and Travis Moen took on Chris Neil.

Lars Eller got the comeback started with a goal at 16:38 that cut the deficit to 4–2. Brian Gionta made it 4–3 at 17:56. Then David Desharnais scored what may be the biggest goal of his career with just three-tenths of a second to go.

Ottawa still had a chance to secure the second point, but the Canadiens’ Francis Bouillon who ended the game with his first goal of the season 1:26 into OT. The Sens disputed the goal, saying the puck had been frozen by goalie Robin Lehner, but the clincher was almost beside the point. By staging the season’s biggest collapse, Ottawa was stuck with the result it deserved.

5. Canada 1, USA 0 (2/21)

Looking for a chance to defend the gold medal it had won in Vancouver in 2010, Team Canada relied on a pair of Olympic first-timers to get them past their traditional rival and back to the final.

Jamie Benn scored the game's only goal and Carey Price stopped all 31 shots he faced as the Canadians edged Team USA in a fast paced and physical contest. Benn’s goal 1:41 into the second period was the only mistake in an otherwise brilliant performance by Jonathan Quick, who finished the game with 36 saves—many of them spectacular, including a huge stop on Patrice Bergeron and several chances off the stick of Sidney Crosby, who played his best game of the tournament.

“That was two great teams giving it all they had,” said Team Canada defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “Depth [was the difference]. We have so many guys that can beat you.”

4. Canada 3, USA 2 (2/20)

It was late in the Olympic women’s gold medal game when TV cameras caught the Americans jumping up and down, celebrating the crowning achievement of four years of training. They were tempting fate, of course, but who could blame them? For the first 56 minutes and 34 seconds, Team USA had dominated their rivals, building a 2–0 lead that seemed secure in the capable hands of goaltender Jessie Vetter.

Until it wasn't.

With the clock winding down, Brianne Jenner’s shot ricocheted off American defenseman Kacey Bellamy and past Vetter to make the score 2–1. The Canadians had life ... and the hockey gods on their side. Moments later, with goalie Shannon Szabados pulled for an extra attacker, U.S. forward Kelli Stack got tangled up with a linesman and Canadian defender Catherine Ward at the American blueline. Stack got off a shot at the empty net but her attempt bounced harmlessly off the goal post.

“I thought [that] might be an omen for us that we had a good chance of coming back,” said Canada’s Natalie Spooner.

With the Canadian net still empty, Marie-Philip Poulin pounced on a loose puck and beat Vetter to tie the game with under a minute to go.

Unfortunately, the officials couldn't stay out of the way in OT, either. British referee Joy Tottman whistled a trio of penalties in quick succession, including one when American star Hilary Knight hauled down Canada’s Hayley Wickenheiser on a breakaway. After some deliberation, the officials decided to make the penalty a minor instead of a penalty shot. Just 39 seconds later, with Team Canada on the power play, Poulin took a pass from Laura Fortino and blasted the rolling puck past Vetter to end the stunning Canadian comeback.

“We had the game in hand,” U.S. coach Katey Stone said. “The puck that goes down the ice and hits the post. It could have been over then. So when those types of things happen in the game of hockey, you start to wonder if it is your night.”

3. USA 3, Russia 2 (2/15)

When Team USA’s braintrust named T.J. Oshie to the team for the Sochi Olympics they made it clear why they wanted him.

“You [knew] at some point we [were] going to end up in a shootout, and we [were] going to want T.J. Oshie,” general manager David Poile said.

The move paid off in one of the most clutch performances in Olympic history, a 4-for-6 effort against Russia’s Sergei Bobrovsky that led the Americans to a thrilling round-robin win over the host nation. Before the two sides got to that point, however, they engaged in a surprisingly physical game that saw the normally docile Russians match the intensity of the Americans blow for blow.

Joe Pavelski scored a power play goal midway through the third period to give the U.S. a 2–1 lead, but at 7:16 Pavel Datsyuk responded with his second goal of the game to tie it up. The Russians thought that Fedor Tyutin had scored the winner with 4:40 remaining, but the goal was disallowed because the net had been slightly dislodged.

“I saw it was off, but I didn't know if it was before or after the puck went in,” goalie Jonathan Quick said, admitting that the Americans might have caught a break.

The two sides traded chances throughout the rest of regulation and overtime. In the shootout, Oshie became a national hero. He opened the skills competition with a wrister that beat Bobrovsky through the five-hole, then became the U.S.’s only shooter from the fourth chance on. He missed high, scored five-hole, went bar down, missed again and then clinched the victory with another wrister through the five-hole.

“I think that shootout took two years off my life,” said Team USA coach Dan Bylsma.

2. Kings 5, Blackhawks 4 (6/1)

One of the greatest playoff series in recent memory got the ending it deserved: a Game 7 barn burner that went to overtime. It was a frantic contest from the start, with the two teams combining for five goals in the first period, including three in a span of just over a minute. Leading 3–2, Chicago proceeded to dominate the second period, outshooting L.A. 16–4. The Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp scored in the second, but the Kings’ Tyler Toffoli answered and Chicago’s lead was only 4–3 entering the third.

Los Angeles then mounted a furious assault and finally got the equalizer at 12:43 of the third period, when Marian Gaborik banged home a rebound that goalie Corey Crawford had failed to secure. The teams went at each other hammer and tongs the rest of the way, and it took a brilliant pad save by the Kings’ Jonathan Quick in the waning seconds to get the game to OT. At 5:47 of the extra period, a wrister by defenseman Alec Martinez deflected off the Blackhawks’ Nick Leddy and past Crawford for a 5–4 victory that sent L.A. to the Cup finals for the second time in three years.

1. Blackhawks 5, Kings 4 (5/28)

“I've seen a lot of games, been involved in a lot of games,” said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville. “That might have been the greatest overtime I’ve seen.”

For Quenneville, it was easier to say that as the winner, especially since the victory had saved his team from playoff elimination. But that doesn’t mean that Quenneville wasn’t also right. Game 5 of the Western Conference finals was a season-defining thriller that saw two championship-caliber teams take the full measure of each other.

The Hawks trailed 4–3 entering the third period, but got a goal from Ben Smith 1:17 in to set the stage for a frantic finish. “That was probably the highest pace I’ve seen all year,” said Chicago goalie Corey Crawford, who made 40 saves. “There were so many momentum changes. Fortunately the last swing went our way.”

Both sides had their chances before little-used defensive forward Michal Handzus delivered the knockout blow 2:04 into double-OT.

“I’m glad that I came through,” said Handzus, who beat Jonathan Quick with a backhand off the rush. “It was a great game, a lot of emotion. We put everything on the line.”


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