The Best of 2020: No, Seriously

Like everywhere else in the world, the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked absolute havoc on the hockey community in 2020. Let’s remember these special moments instead.
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It’s probably best the NHL decided to put off the start of the 2020-21 season until at least Jan. 1. With the way the calendar year went in 2020, there’s no sense tempting fate. But all things considered, the league had a pretty good run in 2019-20, what with holding a 24-team playoff tournament in the midst of a global pandemic without one positive test and all…

Man, that was crazy, wasn’t it? While our inclination on New Year’s Eve would be to tell 2020 to take a hike and not let the door hit it in the rear end on the way out, the fact is the 2019-20 campaign did contain some incredible moments, both pre- and post-COVID. Just in case you wanted to strike 2020 from your memory bank, these high points, in no particular order, might give you pause to reconsider.

CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN

The Lightning’s Steven Stamkos played exactly two minutes and 47 seconds in the 2020 playoffs, but never has so much been done by one man in such little time. With the Stanley Cup final tied 1-1, Stamkos drew in for Game 3 for the first and only time of the playoffs. And he entered and exited in dramatic fashion, taking the puck along the boards and avoiding a check by Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell, before going bar down on goalie Anton Khudobin. The goal, which put the Lightning up 2-0 in a game they won 5-2, was an inspirational touchstone for Tampa’s Stanley Cup championship. Just as quickly as he came, Stamkos was mysteriously gone, not to be seen again in the final until he hoisted the Cup over his head after Game 6. One of the greatest goal-scorers of his generation had scored 445 regular-season and playoff goals prior to Game 3, but No. 446 will go down as the most memorable of his impressive career.

THE EBUG FAIRYTALE

Few people really knew what an EBUG was, but on the 40th anniversary of the Miracle on Ice, the acronym for emergency backup goalie became a part of almost every hockey fan’s vernacular, thanks to a 42-year-old Zamboni driver named David Ayres, whose hockey career was derailed when he required a kidney transplant from his mother. Ayres, who works at the Toronto
Maple Leafs’ practice rink and occasionally fills in at AHL Marlies and Leafs practices, was pressed into service for the Carolina Hurricanes when both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer were injured. After allowing goals on the first two shots he faced, Ayres stopped the next eight to lead the Hurricanes
to a 6-3 victory over Toronto. He became the first EBUG to win a game and the oldest goalie to win his NHL debut in league history.

THE MARATHON

In their first real game of the 2020 playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning needed five overtime periods to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their first-round series. It was a game in which Columbus goaltender Joonas Korpisalo made 85 saves…and lost. Who knows what would have happened had Brayden Point not ended things midway through the fifth OT? After their stunning upset of heavily favored Tampa Bay in the 2019 playoffs, the Blue Jackets might have succeeded in getting into the Lightning’s head. But that didn’t happen, and the Lightning won in five games, with Point ending Game 5 the way he did Game 1, with an overtime goal.

BLACK LIVES MATTER

For whatever reason, the NHL could not bring itself to say those three words, so as they often do on the ice, the players took matters into their own hands. After Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba made an impassioned plea for social justice to open the playoff tournament, professional athletes began to go on wildcat strikes in their respective sports to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. NHL players decided not to play games on Aug. 26 and 27, with the backing of the league.

JOEL (EFFIN’) KIVIRANTA

When Andrew Cogliano, a former NHL ironman, was unfit to play Game 7 of the Dallas Stars’ second-round series against Colorado, the previously little-known Joel Kiviranta drew into the lineup – and responded with a hat trick, including the winner in overtime. When Kiviranta scored his second goal to tie the score at 4-4 in the third, Finnish play-by-play man Antti Makinen, calling the game from a studio back home, yelled “Joel f---ing Kiviranta!”

THE KHUDOBIN WALL (AND THE GREAT WALL OF DEMKO)

When Stars goalie Ben Bishop went down with an injury, Dallas turned to backup Anton Khudobin, who started 24 games and led the charge to the Stanley Cup final. At 34, Khudobin was responsible for Dallas coming out on top in a number of games they had no business winning, becoming a sentimental fan favorite in the process. Thatcher Demko, who was similarly pressed into service by Vancouver after starter Jacob Markstrom got hurt, was Ken Dryden-esque for the Canucks and almost led them past the powerful Vegas Golden Knights.

A HATTIE TO REMEMBER

In his first home game in more than three months after entering the NHL’s substance-abuse program, Bobby Ryan of the Ottawa Senators scored a hat trick that prompted a heartfelt and emotional standing ovation for the troubled winger. And his emotional response to the love he felt created an enduring moment.

DO THE SVECHNIKOV

In the space of less than two months, Carolina Hurricanes sniper Andrei Svechnikov scored two lacrosse-style goals. Although that style of goal has been scored numerous times at lower levels, it is believed Svechnikov’s first of the two in late October against David Rittich of the Calgary Flames was the first in NHL history. His second came in mid-December against the Winnipeg Jets. There was some brief and silly talk of the NHL banning the lacrosse goal, but the league publicly stated it has no problem with it.

HE SHOOTS, HE SCORES

The 2019-20 season was largely a forgettable one for Nashville Predators netminder Pekka Rinne, but he did have one shining moment when he joined the small club of goalies who have scored a goal. With the Predators leading 4-2 late in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks in early January, Rinne came out of his net and stopped a dump-in behind the net. Then, standing behind his goal line with no Blackhawks players pressuring him, he squared up and shot the puck the length of the ice into the empty Chicago net. With his goal, Rinne outscored 22 defensemen and four forwards who had each played at least 20 games last season.

GURIANOV GOAL-A-PALOOZA

The Stars had an opportunity to finish off Calgary in Game 6 of their first-round series, but they fell behind 3-0 less than seven minutes into the first period. Then Dallas went to work, scoring seven unanswered goals, including five in the second period. Denis Gurianov had four goals for the Stars, who won three straight to take the series and move on.

OVI HITS 700

After scoring 11 goals in seven games, then enduring a five-game drought looking for his 700th goal, Alex Ovechkin cemented his credentials as the greatest scorer of his generation, when he got Nos. 699 and 700 in back-to-back games in late-February. Ovechkin became the NHL’s eighth 700-goal man. His 706 at season’s end is 188 behind leader Wayne Gretzky (894). 

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