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Looking back on an eventful year on the ice

by John Kreiser / NHL.com
Jonathan Toews is all of 22 years old, yet it's safe to say he'll have a hard time duplicating the kind of success he had in 2010 if he lives to be 122.
 
Toews was the focal point of the two biggest hockey stories of the year -- the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup triumph, ending a 49-year championship drought, and Canada's gold medal at the Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Not only was Toews the captain of the squad that won the franchise's first Cup since 1961, he also won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. And while he didn't score the gold medal-winning overtime goal when Canada beat the United States for gold in Vancouver, he did score earlier in the championship game and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Forward.
All in all, a pretty fantastic year for a kid from Winnipeg.
 
But the Hawks' Cup victory and Canada's Olympic triumph were far from the only major hockey stories in 2010. Here's a look at the top 10 items from the soon-to-be-departed year:

1a) Hawks win it all, at last -- For a second or two June 9, Patrick Kane was the only person at the then-Wachovia Center who knew the Chicago Blackhawks had ended the NHL's longest active Stanley  Cup drought.
 
Kane took a bad-angle shot that went under the pads of Philadelphia goaltender Michael Leighton and into the net. It was stuck under the apron that runs at the bottom of the net, and but once the whistle blew and a video review confirmed what Kane already knew -- the Hawks were Stanley Cup champs for the first time since 1961.
 
Kane celebrated even before the review confirmed that the puck had indeed gone into the net.
 
"I think a couple of guys on the ice may have known it was in, but as far as the reaction from the crowd, there might have been only a few people who knew it was in," he told NHL.com. "I think that's why I celebrated as hard as I did right after, went as crazy as I did, because there was really no reaction toward it -- the place was dead and I don't think anyone knew what was going on except for me and a couple of players who were chasing me down the ice."
 
The Cup victory capped the revival of a franchise that three years earlier had trouble filling half the seats for its home games at the United Center. The Hawks' Stanley Cup parade drew an estimated 2 million celebrants.
 
"You look at the population of Chicago -- it's about 2 million, 3 million people," Kane said. "It's pretty crazy to have that many people show up. We weren't expecting it, but when it happened, it helped everything sink in."
 
1b) Canada wins the gold -- You could have heard a pin drop at Canada Hockey Place (the building now known as Rogers Arena) when Zach Parise banged in a rebound with 24.4 seconds left in regulation of the Olympic gold-medal game on Feb. 28, pulling the underdog United States even with Canada at 2-2 and forcing overtime.
 
In the end, however, all Parise's goal did was set up more drama. Sidney Crosby, whose Olympic performance had been regarded as somewhat disappointing before then, beat tournament MVP Ryan Miller 7:40 into the extra period to set off perhaps the biggest sports celebration in Canadian history.
 
"I just tried to throw it at the net, I wasn't really aiming for anything," Crosby said. "I didn't see it go in. I just heard everybody screaming."
 
Goals by Toews and Corey Perry gave Canada a 2-0 lead, but the U.S. got one back when Ryan Kesler -- whose day job is playing for the local Canucks -- scored midway through the second. That goal intensified the battle between the two North American teams before Parise sent the game into OT.
 
"It was a game for the ages," Toews said, "just because it was so close. It was such a battle. I'm sure it will be memorable for a lot of people, but especially the guys in the locker room who found a way to win."
 
3) A comeback for the ages --The Philadelphia Flyers arguably were the weakest team to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the 2004-05 work stoppage, needing a shootout win on the final day of the regular season to qualify, and their 88 points would have left them 12th in the Western Conference. They upset New Jersey in the opening round, but looked to be headed for a quick exit after losing the first three games of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Boston.
 
But it takes four victories to win a series, and the Flyers refused to concede No. 4. They won Game 4 in overtime, stunned the Bruins in Boston in Game 5 and won Game 6 back in Philadelphia.
 
Still, Game 7 was at TD Garden -- and the Bruins delighted the home crowd by racing to a 3-0 lead less than 15 minutes into the game. But just as they had done in the series, the Flyers refused to panic. James van Riemsdyk got one goal back before the end of the first period, Scott Hartnell and Danny Briere scored to tie the game in the second and Simon Gagne's power-play goal with 7:08 left in regulation to give the Flyers the winner in a 4-3 victory that capped the first 3-0 comeback in a series in 35 years and the first comeback from a three-goal deficit in a Game 7 since 1991.
 
"We've been resilient all year, whether it was injuries or putting ourselves in a bad position in the standings," captain Mike Richards said. "We've been through a lot together. Our mindset was that if we were going to go down, we were going to go down swinging."
 
4) Walk-off winner at Fenway -- There have been hundreds of walk-off wins at venerable Fenway Park, but none like the one that began 2010.
Fenway usually is dark Jan. 1, but the first day of 2010 brought 38,112 fans to the famed baseball stadium for the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, the third New Year's Day game and the second one that needed more than 60 minutes to be decided.
 
Flyers defenseman Danny Syvret scored in the second period -- his first NHL goal -- to give the Flyers a lead, but Mark Recchi's power-play goal with 2:18 remaining in regulation sent the game into overtime. With the sun disappearing and the lights giving the outdoor rink an almost-surreal aura, Patrice Bergeron set up Marco Sturm for the game-winner 1:57 into the extra period for a 2-1 victory -- rocking the old ballpark to its seams.
 
"That's, I think, what I probably dreamed of this morning," Sturm said. "I think every player (wants) to score in overtime -- especially in a game like this."
 
The celebration continued well after the Bruins and Flyers left the ice. Even the losers knew they had taken part in something special.
 
"The experience is once-in-a-lifetime," said Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, a Boston-area native. "It's not just being a cliché -- Fenway Park, Bruins, Flyers, 44,000 people on a perfect day. You couldn't ask for anything better for the game of hockey.

"It was just unbelievable to be a part of it; for our organization, for our players, for the fans. It was a great day of hockey."
 
5) Streaking Sid -- At age 23, Sidney Crosby already has accomplished more in his career than most players ever will. He owns a Hart Trophy, an Art Ross Trophy, a Rocket Richard Trophy, and he's the youngest player to captain a Stanley Cup winner.
 
But in the first half of the 2010-11 season, Crosby has taken his game to a whole new level -- and carried the Pittsburgh Penguins with him.
 
After starting the season with 6 goals and 15 points in the Penguins' first 12 games, Crosby went without a point in a 5-2 loss at Dallas on Nov. 3 -- though he did get into a fight with Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen.  But he had a pair of goals two nights later in Anaheim and has been almost unstoppable since then.
 
Beginning with the game in Anaheim, Crosby put up at least one point in 25 consecutive games, totaling 26 goals and 24 assists befoer being stopped on Long Island in his final game of 2010. Not coincidentally, the Penguins shook off their early-season ups and downs and began to pile up the wins -- they won 12 in a row after an overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Nov. 15 and were 14-0-1 before a 3-2 loss at Philadelphia on Dec. 14.
 
His personal streak included a pair of hat tricks in a three-game span.
 
"That's something you expect from him, because we see him every day," goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said after the second one, a 3-2 win against Atlanta on Dec. 2 in which he scored all of his team's goals while putting up a natural hat trick. "But it still amazes me how good he is, how hard he works to get better."
 
Crosby is a rarity in sports -- an uber-touted prospect who actually is better than all the hype. The scary part for the rest of the League is that he's still getting better.
 
"The boy's special, there's no question," Atlanta coach Craig Ramsay said. "Everybody knows that. When players like that get on a roll, it's scary to play against them. When the puck bounces, they get it and when they get it, good things happen."
 
6) Big Two becomes Big Three -- For the past few seasons, the NHL has been dominated by two players -- Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals.  But the Big Two has become the Big Three -- Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos has elbowed his way into the NHL's elite.
 
Stamkos, taken by Tampa Bay with the first pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, had 23 goals as a rookie in 2008-09 while getting used to the NHL. In his second season, he turned into one of the League's top snipers. He, Crosby and Ovechkin battled for the goal-scoring lead as March turned to April -- and Stamkos earned a share of the Rocket Richard Trophy thanks to an empty-netter in the Lightning's final regular-season game. He and Crosby ended the season with 51, one more than Ovechkin.
 
"It was pretty surreal to be involved in that right down to the last game," Stamkos said. "I just wanted to go out and have fun. I was going to try my best and hoped that I could do it."
 
But that turned out to be a warm-up for the 2010-11 season. Stamkos became the first player in the League to reach 20 goals -- he needed just 21 games -- and ended the calendar year on pace to break 60 goals.
 
"What more can you say about Stamkos?” Boston coach Claude Julien said after his team surrendered goal No. 20 in a 3-1 loss Nov. 22. "He's on fire. Give him an opportunity and he's going to take advantage of it."
 
The revamped Lightning, led by new GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher, are on track to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
 
"It's nice," Stamkos said of hitting the 20-goal mark. "But I just want to keep going. I just want to chip in offensively whenever I can to help this team win games. However many goals you get, it doesn't matter as long as you're helping the team win."
 
7) An upsetting spring -- The Flyers made the playoffs on the final day of the regular season but actually finished seventh in the Eastern Conference, earning them a meeting with New Jersey. The Montreal Canadiens knew going into the last day of the season they had made the playoffs, but didn't know until the Flyers' victory where they would finish and who they would play.
 
The answers were eighth place and the Washington Capitals, who won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time with 121 points.
 
The Canadiens were regarded as having two chances of pulling an upset -- slim and none. However, they stunned the Caps by winning the opener in Washington, but lost 6-5 in overtime in Game 2 and were beaten soundly in the next two games in Montreal.
 
But the Habs spoiled the expected victory party with a 2-1 win at the Verizon Center in Game 5, and then pushed the series to the limit by winning 4-1 in Game 6 behind the goaltending of Jaroslav Halak. The Slovak Olympian saved his best for last, stopping 41 shots in Game 7 as the Canadiens stunned the Caps and their fans with a 2-1 victory.
 
"I'm in shock right now. I don't know what to say," said Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, his eyes staring at the floor of the locker room. "It was great going up 3-1 in the series. But it's only one step. We didn't do it."
 
The Canadiens are the ninth No. 8 seed to beat a No. 1 in 32 series since the NHL went to its current playoff format in 1994, and the first to come back from a 3-1 series deficit. Their reward was a meeting with Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions.
 
Despite losing top defenseman Andrei Markov with a knee injury in Game 1, the Canadiens overcame three one-game deficits to push the series to a Game 7 -- and as they had done in the previous round, the Habs stunned the home team. Despite being outshot 39-20, the Canadiens coasted to a 5-2 victory.
 
"Who would expect it? Nobody gave us a chance and here we are," Halak said.
 
Like the Caps before them, the Penguins could do nothing but pay tribute to the team that sent them home early.
 
"They beat Washington, now they beat us," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "I think it's time to give this team some credit for what they've done, rather than picking apart why we didn't do what we were supposed to do."
 
8) Pens and Caps go '24/7' -- With Crosby in Pittsburgh and Ovechkin in Washington, the Penguins and Capitals have become one of the fiercest rivalries in the NHL, so it's not surprising they would be paired for the 2011 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be played at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh on Jan. 1.
 
But unlike the three previous Classics, this one has a prelude.
 
HBO began airing a four-part documentary entitled "24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic," on Dec.  15. HBO received complete access to both teams, though it started by catching them going in opposite directions -- while Crosby and the Penguins were ripping off 12 consecutive victories, Ovi and the Caps were going winless in six. Episode 2, which debuted this past Wednesday, saw both skids come to an end.
 
"You don't really see them that much," Penguins forward Maxime Talbot told NHL.com when asked about having cameras all over the place. "They're just there. You don't pay attention to them that much. They're just filming and we don't notice them too much."
 
Ovechkin got a sneak preview the day before the first show aired -- though he didn't necessarily like what he saw. The segment included Washington's 7-0 loss Sunday in New York.
 
"It was pretty interesting because of how we look over there," Ovechkin said.

"You can see how guys are intense, how they concentrate, and how we're different," he said. "In the locker room you don't see how different you are and right now you're going to see yourself and you're going to think, 'Is it me over there?' You're so concentrating on the game all the time. It's kind of cool."
 
The first three parts of the documentary will air prior to the Jan. 1 game; the fourth will air after the game is played.
 
9) Taylor or Tyler? -- The only thing that was certain entering the 2010 Entry Draft was that the first name of the player chosen with the No. 1 pick would begin with "T." Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin had distanced themselves from the rest of the field, and there was no question one of them would be taken first.
 
But which one?
The Edmonton Oilers, who owned the No. 1 pick after finishing 30th in the overall standings, spent hours and hours watching and interviewing both players. Hall, a left wing, gave GM Steve Tambellini plenty to watch by leading the Windsor Spitfires to their second consecutive Memorial Cup title -- and winning the MVP award for the second year in a row. Seguin, a center with the Plymouth Whalers, was rated No. 1 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting.
 
In the end, the Oilers opted for Hall, leaving Seguin to the Boston Bruins with the second pick.
 
"I think we had a lot of discussion about the centerman," Oilers president Kevin Lowe said. "We're not trying to build a Stanley Cup (champion) overnight. If the guys we have don't evolve into that No. 1 centerman, we hope we will be able to draft one or acquire one in the coming years."
 
Both players made their teams out of training camp. After a slow start, Hall reached double figures in goals by mid-December with a young Edmonton team. Seguin, playing with a more experienced team in Boston, had 5 goals and 11 points in his first 31 games.
 
10) The $100 million man -- The Devils went to a lot of time and trouble to bring Ilya Kovalchuk to New Jersey just before the Olympics, acquiring the impending free-agent sharpshooter from Atlanta in a mega-trade in early February in hopes that he could be a big part of a long playoff run.
 
It didn't happen -- the Devils were upset by Philadelphia in the opening round. But the Devils liked what they saw (27 points in 27 games) from the 27-year-old Russian star, and after weeks of talk about where the two-time 50-goal scorer would wind up, he signed a 17-year, $102 million deal to stay with the Devils.
 
However, the NHL rejected the contract, saying a deal that long was a way to get around the salary cap. An arbitrator agreed, sending both sides back to the negotiating table and leading to speculation that Kovalchuk could end up elsewhere.
 
But Kovalchuk had said he liked New Jersey, wanted to stay there -- and in the end he did, agreeing to a revised 15-year, $100 million deal that passed muster with the League.
 
"At first, I didn't know where I was going to go," he said after everything was settled. "But I'm glad I stayed."
 
In the end, he added, the question of where he would wind up playing was harder on his wife.
 
"Everything's behind us and we'll all be together here," Kovalchuk said. "She was more nervous than me. She was wondering where we were going to be and stuff. I told her to relax a little bit. We'll be OK."
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