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Fifteen top moments from 2015, from Classic to Cup

by Dan Rosen

There was a memorable finish to a memorable event. There was a golden night in Toronto, hilarious moments in Columbus, classic finishes to the regular season, and far more drama on and off the ice during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One player dominated like few have before while another from the same team donated like none before. Another "Next One" arrived in the NHL while a current all-star did something no one has done in 23 years.

It was another good year in the NHL in 2015, with great stories, defining moments, comebacks and loud noises, history and maybe even a dynasty.

Celebrate the holiday season with the top 15 moments of 2015, listed in chronological order:

Jan. 1: Washington wins a Classic

The Washington Capitals turned the 2015 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic into a true classic with forward Troy Brouwer scoring the winning power-play goal with 12.9 seconds remaining in the third period to give the host Capitals a 3-2 win against the Chicago Blackhawks. There were 42,832 red-clad fans packed into Nationals Park for the outdoor event. In addition to a great game, they were treated to a concert from legendary rocker Billy Idol, an F-16 flyover, and players being introduced by stepping out from behind a replica of the Capitol Building and skating down a miniature frozen version of the famous reflecting pool on the National Mall.

"The whole day was unbelievable," Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said after the game.

Jan. 5: Future on display at World Juniors

They were kids wearing their nation's colors and celebrating with gold medals around their necks at the conclusion of 2015 World Junior Championship. They won Canada's first gold medal in the event since 2009; its first medal of any kind since 2012. They beat Russia 5-4 in the gold-medal game at Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It was the highlight of their hockey lives, but it was only the beginning of what would become a magical year for many of them.

Ten players from Canada's gold-medal winning team have appeared in NHL games this season. Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid was a Calder Trophy favorite until breaking his clavicle on Nov. 3. Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse is becoming a mainstay in Edmonton's defense corps after initially starting the season in the American Hockey League. Anthony Duclair and Max Domi represent the present and future of the Arizona Coyotes. Robby Fabbri surprisingly made the St. Louis Blues' opening night lineup and has 11 points in 30 games. Sam Reinhart has 15 points in 34 games with the Buffalo Sabres. Curtis Lazar, Canada's captain at the 2015 WJC, is doing well in his complementary role with the Ottawa Senators. Jake Virtanen was a regular for the Vancouver Canucks until he was loaned to Hockey Canada to play in the 2016 WJC. Nic Petan of the Winnipeg Jets and Nick Ritchie of the Anaheim Ducks are in the AHL now after getting some time in the NHL. In addition, Zach Fucale (Montreal Canadiens) and Shea Theodore (Ducks) each spent time in the NHL but did not appear in any games.

Jan. 23: Ovechkin donates car to local program

Ovechkin sat in the players' lounge lobbying All-Star Game captains Nick Foligno and Jonathan Toews to pick him last so he could win the car that went to the final pick of the 2015 NHL All-Star Fantasy Draft. He held a handwritten note across his face and crashed interviews being done with other players to let his wish be heard. Ovechkin wasn't the final pick -- Foligno picked him third-to-last -- but Honda still came through. The following night Honda announced it was giving Ovechkin an Accord, and Ovechkin announced he would be donating it to charity. Honda formally presented Ovechkin with the car Feb. 9 and it was auctioned off, with the proceeds benefitting the American Special Hockey Association. The money raised funded grants for new teams, tournaments and camps.

Jan. 24: Johansen steals show during All-Star Skills Competition

Columbus Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen was the star of NHL All-Star Weekend at Nationwide Arena in Columbus and he thrived in the role during the Breakaway Challenge portion of the Skills Competition. He enlisted the help of Cole Vogt, the 7-year-old son of Columbus trainer Mike Vogt, to assist in him on one of his attempts. On another he removed his Blue Jackets jersey to reveal an Ohio State Buckeyes football jersey. For his last attempt he recruited six players to help recreate the "Flying V" formation from the movie "The Mighty Ducks."

Philadelphia Flyers forward Jakub Voracek, a former Blue Jackets player, added to the night when he played off Johansen's attempt with young Vogt by enlisting the help of Calgary Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau, who still has his boyish looks and is one of the smallest players in the League at 5-foot-9, 157 pounds.

"I think that little kid was bigger than [Gaudreau]," Voracek said jokingly after the event.

Feb. 21: Kings spoil Sharks' night under the stars

Neither the Los Angeles Kings nor the San Jose Sharks made the playoffs last season, but each still had hope when they took their rivalry outside under the Northern California sky for the 2015 Coors Light NHL Stadium Series game at Levi's Stadium. The Kings ruined it for the Sharks with a 2-1 victory, which at the time was their seventh in a row. It was 57.4 degrees Fahrenheit and there were 70,205 fans inside the home of the San Francisco 49ers when the game started. They were treated to concerts from rock legends John Fogerty and Melissa Etheridge, all part of another showcase of the success of hockey in California. The NHL held a game at Dodger Stadium 13 months earlier that played to a sellout crowd of 54,099 fans.

"Do I envision us coming back [to California] at some point for more outdoor games? The answer is absolutely," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said.

April 11: Senators cap comeback with playoff berth

The Ottawa Senators were 14 points out of a playoff spot on Feb. 10. They clinched a playoff berth with a 3-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on the last day of the season. The Senators went 23-4-4 in their final 31 games, including a 20-1-2 record for goalie Andrew Hammond, who didn't make his first NHL start until Feb. 18. Rookie forward Mark Stone had 35 points in the final 31 games and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. Defenseman Erik Karlsson had 31 points in the final 31 games and won the Norris Trophy.

"It's a bit of a Cinderella story," Ottawa coach Dave Cameron said after defeating Philadelphia.

April 11: Benn wins scoring title in final seconds of season

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn and New York Islanders center John Tavares were tied for the League lead with 86 points heading into the last minute of regulation in Dallas' last game of the 2014-15 regular season. Tavares finished his season with two points; Benn had three to this point, on a hat trick he completed at 17:55 of the third period. Benn, though, had one more point up his sleeve. He got it with a secondary assist on Cody Eakin's goal at 19:51 of the third period. Benn's four-point game in a 4-1 win against the Nashville Predators gave him 87 points and his first Art Ross Trophy. Benn won the trophy with 10 points in his last three games, 16 in his final seven, and 23 in his last 12.

"What he did was special," Dallas coach Lindy Ruff said after the game.

April 20: Playoff hockey returns to Winnipeg

The fans in Winnipeg had been waiting since April 28, 1996 for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to come back to them. They returned to a thunderous roar from the 15,016 inside MTS Centre watching Game 3 between the Winnipeg Jets and Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference First Round. Sportsnet reported that at its peak the noise level reached 124 decibels; people can experience permanent hearing damage if they're exposed to noise at that high a level for long periods of time. The Jets didn't answer on the ice; they lost 5-4 in overtime and were eliminated in the next game.

"That's as good a building as I've ever seen in my life," Jets coach Paul Maurice said after the game.

May 17-30: Ducks-Blackhawks: A series for the ages

The Blackhawks and Ducks waged a classic seven-game series in the Western Conference Final that was complete with twists, turns, momentum swings, six overtime periods, elation and heartache. The Blackhawks rallied from a 3-2 series deficit to win in seven games. They won 3-2 in Game 2 on a goal by Marcus Kruger at 16:12 of the third overtime. They won in double overtime in Game 4. The Ducks won Game 5 in overtime, but the series might have turned in the Blackhawks' favor in the third period, when Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews scored twice on Ducks goalie Frederik Andersen in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime. Andersen wasn't the same after that. He allowed nine goals on 48 shots in Games 6 and 7.

"We had to earn everything against that team," Toews said after Game 7.

May 20: Babcock hired by Maple Leafs

Mike Babcock ended the year-long speculation about his future by signing a record-breaking eight-year, $50 million contract to coach the Toronto Maple Leafs. Babcock coached the Detroit Red Wings from 2005-15, making the playoffs in every season, winning the Stanley Cup in 2008 and returning to the Cup Final in 2009. He arguably was the biggest coaching free agent in NHL history before signing with the Maple Leafs.

"I believe this is Canada's team and we need to put Canada's team back on the map," Babcock said at his introductory press conference May 21.

June 15: Blackhawks win the Cup, elicit dynasty questions

The Blackhawks beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final to win their third championship in six seasons. They became the first NHL team since the adoption of the salary cap to win three titles (2010, 2013, 2015). Their consistency has not just been with championships but postseason appearances. They have been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs every season since 2008-09, with five trips to the Western Conference Final and three trips to the Cup Final.

"Dynasty is a pretty strong word. But I'll tell you what, in today's era with the free agency and how hard it is to keep star players around and the money that's being thrown out there, if it's not a dynasty it's pretty darn good anyway," said Larry Robinson, a Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman and six-time Stanley Cup champion with the Montreal Canadiens.

June 24: Price cleans up at NHL Awards

Canadiens goalie Carey Price was a historic winner at the 2015 NHL Awards in Las Vegas. He became the first goalie to sweep the Hart Trophy, Vezina Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award and William M. Jennings Trophy. He is the second player in Canadiens history to win four awards in the same season; Guy Lafleur won the Hart Trophy, Ted Lindsay Award, Art Ross Trophy and Conn Smythe Trophy in 1977.

"It's been a crazy ride," Price said in Las Vegas.

June 26: McDavid taken first in draft

The Connor McDavid hype machine arrived in Florida on full blast for the 2015 NHL Draft. After months of speculation, and comparisons to Sidney Crosby and Jack Eichel, McDavid arrived at the draft prepared to be selected by the Edmonton Oilers with the No. 1 pick. That it happened was not surprising in the moment, but it was big nonetheless. McDavid's career is just getting started, but no matter how it goes, if he becomes a Hockey Hall of Fame player or a bust (unlikely), his selection will go down as an important moment in NHL history.

"I think it was even better than I expected," McDavid said at the draft.

Sept. 16: Subban donates $10 million to hospital

No NHL player gave more than Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban did this year, and it has nothing to do with what he did on the ice. Subban announced he was making a $10 million donation to Montreal Children's Hospital. The donation is to be paid over seven years and was called the biggest philanthropic commitment by a sports figure in Canadian history. Subban was honored by the hospital naming its atrium after him.

"This is my city just as much as it's yours. It's my job as well to make a commitment to this city that everyone can understand," Subban said when the donation was announced.

Oct. 17-Dec. 13: Kane carries point streak for 26 games

Blackhawks right wing Patrick Kane put himself on pace to exceed 100 points and win the Art Ross Trophy with a 26-game point streak that lasted nearly two months. It was the longest point streak by an American-born NHL player and the longest by any player since Mats Sundin had points in 30 straight games in 1992-93 for the Quebec Nordiques. Kane had 16 goals and 40 points during the streak, during which the Blackhawks went 15-7-4.

"Amazing streak," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said.


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