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2020 in Review

Looking back on a wild 2020 in the NHL

From the Winter Classic in Texas to Tampa Bay's Stanley Cup win in the NHL Bubble, check out the NHL's highlights from a memorable 2020

  • 02:57 •

The year 2020 was unlike any other, including in the NHL. A year that began with more than 85,000 fans at the Cotton Bowl for the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic saw the last game of the season played with no fans in attendance in a bubble in Edmonton.

In between there were milestones, a pause in the season due to a worldwide pandemic, a historic playoff format, social justice taking center stage and the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup. 

To recap 2020, 17 staff writers and editors present their favorite memories from a historic, turbulent and memorable year:


Jan. 1 -- Winter Classic

The quote seems quaint. "The only complaints that we've been getting is that it's been too crowded," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. "And in this business, you'll take that." Wouldn't we take that now? Before the coronavirus pandemic forced social distancing and disrupted everything, people packed the State Fair of Texas and the Cotton Bowl to eat fried food, ride rides, play midway games and watch an outdoor NHL game between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators. Two teams from the southern United States drew 85,630, the second-biggest crowd in NHL history, to an iconic college football venue in Texas. Then, it showed how far hockey had come. Now, it reminds us of what we've lost to the pandemic but also what we have to look forward to once the pandemic ends. -- Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist

Video: Sights and Sounds from the 2020 NHL Winter Classic


Jan. 21 -- Quenneville returns to Chicago

Joel Quenneville usually wears a stern expression when he's standing behind the bench. But the former Chicago Blackhawks coach couldn't help but smile and get a little teary-eyed when he returned to the United Center for the first time since he was fired on Nov. 6, 2018. The Florida Panthers coach beamed and waved to the crowd while a video montage honored his accomplishments with the Blackhawks, including Stanley Cup wins in 2010, 2013 and 2015. "Behind Blue Eyes" by The Who, Quenneville's favorite band, played during the tribute. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said the reception for Quenneville was louder than that for forward Patrick Kane, who prior to the game was honored for scoring his 1,000th NHL point on Jan. 19. I hadn't heard a raucous ovation at United Center in a while, so it was great to be there to hear the well-deserved admiration and appreciation for Quenneville. -- Tracey Myers, staff writer

Video: FLA@CHI: Blackhawks pay tribute to Joel Quenneville


Jan. 24 -- Elite Women's 3-on-3 at the All-Star Game

I was lucky enough to spend the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend following around some incredible women, from Cammi Granato to Kendall Coyne Schofield, taking in their experiences of being invited to play in the Elite Women's 3-on-3 at the 2020 All-Star Skill presented by Amsterdam Vodka. At one point, Rebecca Johnston compared the platform and the visibility to the Olympics, it was so momentous for them. But more than that, it was the joy and excitement they got at taking the ice at Enterprise Center in St. Louis, at playing the game, at being able to show off their skills and their love for hockey in front of an audience that they don't always get, even if they deserve it. It was summed up by Sarah Nurse when she said, "It [was a] huge showcase of our talent. And that's what we want. We want all eyes on us so they can see our product." -- Amalie Benjamin, staff writer

Video: Elite Women's 3-on-3: Daoust leads Canada past USA


Feb. 1 -- Battle of Alberta heats up 

The Battle of Alberta had been at a relatively quiet simmer since the 1980s when the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers were two powerhouses fighting for NHL supremacy. That is, until gloves, helmets, blockers and bodies went flying in a wild affair on Feb. 1. The level of animosity had been rising because each team was in the hunt for the Pacific Division lead. But a bruising, unfriendly exchange between Oilers forward Zack Kassian and Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk on Jan. 11, followed by Flames goalie David Rittich launching his stick into orbit after a shootout win on Jan. 29 set the stage for the old school clash in February. The Oilers had publicly objected to Rittich's walk-off lumber toss and lit up the Flames 8-3, but Calgary didn't go down without … many fights. -- Cristina Ledra, staff writer

Video: McDavid, Draisaitl lead Oilers to 8-3 victory


Feb. 15 -- Toffoli takes flight at Air Force Academy

Tyler Toffoli had a night to remember in one of his final games with the Los Angeles Kings. The forward scored each of his team's three goals in a 3-1 victory against the Colorado Avalanche at Falcon Stadium in the 2020 Navy Federal Credit Union Stadium Series. Toffoli was traded two days later to the Vancouver Canucks. But his farewell performance, as grand as it was, played second fiddle to the majesty of the surroundings. Played on campus at the Air Force Academy, with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop and a F-16 Thunderbird parked adjacent to the playing surface on the school's football field, the Stadium Series event proved to be a breathtaking affair -- and not because It was played at 6,788 feet above sea level. It will be a long time before the images from one of the most picturesque NHL outdoor games fades from my memory. -- Shawn P. Roarke, senior director of editorial

Video: Sights and sounds from the 2020 NHL Stadium Series


Feb. 22 -- Ovechkin scores 700th goal 

Alex Ovechkin looked like a lock to score his 700th NHL goal in early February after getting to 698 with a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 4. But with the team ready for the big moment, Ovechkin went five games without a goal, including a game against the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 15, the same day several members of the team were in Colorado Springs for the 2020 Stadium Series game at Air Force. He went scoreless again on Feb. 17, but got No. 699 on Feb. 20, the same day I flew to Las Vegas to play in a street hockey tournament. He finally scored the milestone goal on Feb. 22 at the New Jersey Devils. My wife and son were at the game, and the team in New York and the Prudential Center handled it expertly. I was thousands of miles away when a story I spent weeks preparing for finally happened. It became the biggest hockey moment of the season … for at least few hours. -- Bill Price, Editor-in-Chief 

Video: WSH@NJD: Ovechkin scores 700th NHL goal


Feb. 22 -- Ayres makes EBUG history

David Ayres used the word "unreal" after helping the Carolina Hurricanes defeat the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-3 at Scotiabank Arena on Feb. 22. He wasn't alone. Think about how surreal his journey was. In 2004 he never thought he'd play hockey again when he received a kidney transplant with his mom, Mary, as his donor. He was just glad to be alive. Fifteen years later, injuries to Hurricanes goalies James Reimer and Petr Mrazek forced Carolina to call on Ayres, the emergency backup goalie at Scotiabank Arena. He played the remaining 38:11 and stopped eight of 10 shots to become the first EBUG to win a game in NHL history, and the oldest goalie (42 years, 194 days) to win his NHL regular-season debut. I remember watching him leave the rink that night with his hockey bag in one hand and a case of beer in the other like any recreational player does. Only this had been an NHL game. Unreal indeed. -- Mike Zeisberger, staff writer 

Video: CAR@TOR: Ayres makes history as emergency backup


March 10 -- Canadiens honor Henri Richard

The Montreal Canadiens paid a stirring pregame tribute to the life and career of former lion-hearted captain Henri Richard, who four days earlier had died at age 84 following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer's disease. In fact, this would be Richard's public funeral -- the coronavirus pandemic restricted his formal service to his family and just a few others. I had gotten to know Richard well in his retirement, impressed by the humility and grace of a man who'd won an NHL-record 11 Stanley Cup championships, all with Montreal, and was privileged to be invited to join many from his family that night in a Bell Centre suite, including his wife and the couple's five children. An audio/visual remembrance concluded symbolically with 16 seconds of silence, representing Richard's No. 16 sweater that was retired in 1975. Whether a player has skated one game for the Canadiens or Henri's franchise-record 1,448 (regular season and playoffs), this team embraces its family. Its send-off to one of its greatest players was perfect to the final detail. -- Dave Stubbs, columnist

Video: NSH@MTL: Canadiens pay tribute to Henri Richard


Aug. 1 - Hockey returns in Toronto, Edmonton bubbles

When referee Eric Furlatt dropped the puck between Carolina Hurricanes center Jordan Staal and New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto at 12:09 p.m. ET on Aug. 1, hockey was back. It was the confirmation of the ability of the NHL, its players and a throng of determined behind-the-scenes people to execute a Return to Play plan with precision, caution, safety and thoroughness. The logistics were a daunting task but their implementation and eventual success, including no positive tests inside the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles, brought hope in the middle of a pandemic and was one of the most difficult and important victories of the year. -- Tim Campbell, staff writer

Video: Hurricanes take 1-0 series lead vs. Rangers


Aug. 1 -- Dumba speaks for players against racism 

The NHL returned to play after shutting down due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, and the spotlight was literally on Matt Dumba. The Minnesota Wild defenseman stood at center ice of Rogers Place in Edmonton before Game 1 of the Edmonton Oilers-Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Qualifiers series and eloquently and passionately vowed that the NHL and Hockey Diversity Alliance will stand up for justice and combat racism. With Oilers and Blackhawks players surrounding him and with fans watching on TV, Dumba said, "Racism is a man-made creation and all it does is deteriorate our collective prosperity. Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it." He took a knee during the U.S. national anthem with the hands of Chicago goalie Malcolm Subban and Edmonton defenseman Darnell Nurse on his shoulders. Dumba's deeds were followed by action when four Stanley Cup Playoffs games were postponed Aug. 28 and 29 after players decided not to play in protest of the Aug. 23 police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The NHL and NHL Players' Association supported the decision. -- William Douglas, staff writer

Video: Dumba delivers powerful speech from Edmonton


Aug. 11 -- Lightning, Blue Jackets play 5OT thriller

When the puck dropped for Game 3 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets of the Eastern Conference First Round series at 3:09 p.m., ET, nobody knew the history that would be made more than six hours later. A 2-2 game went to overtime, then another, and another, and another. Four overtimes later, still no winner. By the time Brayden Point scored at 10:27 of the fifth overtime to give the Lightning a 3-2 victory, numerous NHL records had been set. The game, which ended at 9:22 p.m. ET, was the longest in the NHL in more than 20 years. The teams combined for a Stanley Cup Playoff-record 151 shots, including 88 by Tampa Bay, also a playoff record since shots on goal became an official statistic in 1959-60. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo made 85 saves, 12 more than the previous NHL record, and defenseman Seth Jones played 65:06, an NHL record since time on ice became an official statistic in 1997-98. The game was the talk of the sports world in the following days and likely will go down as one of the best in NHL history. -- David Satriano, staff writer

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm1: Point roofs overtime winner


Sept. 4 -- Stars top Avalanche in wild Game 7  

The first Game 7 of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was worth the wait. The Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche went the distance in the Western Conference Second Round and combined for 57 goals in seven games; only five other series in NHL history have totaled more. The Avalanche nearly pulled off the comeback after trailing 3-1 in the best-of-7 series with third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson and without injured captain Gabriel Landeskog in the finale. Colorado took a 4-3 lead at 16:20 of the third period, only to see it disappear 10 seconds later on Joel Kiviranta's second goal of the game. Wait, who? Game 7 was tied 1-1, 2-2, 3-3 and 4-4. Then, almost universally unknown prior to his series-clinching goal at 7:24 in overtime, undrafted forward Kiviranta completed his first NHL hat trick, the first in a Game 7 since Wayne Gretzky in 1993, to help the Stars advance in a thriller. -- Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor

Video: DAL@COL, Gm7: Kiviranta nets hat trick, Game 7 winner


Sept. 4 -- Lindblom returns to Flyers 

I was stunned and saddened like most people when I found out Oskar Lindblom had been diagnosed with cancer last December. I cheered when he rang the bell to show he beat cancer in July. But never did I think he'd be back on the ice during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, there he was the day of Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Second Round, skates laced and ready to go. The emotion from his teammates burst through the TV screen that day. That Lindblom's first shift lasted 1:39 wasn't part of the plan, nor was his playing a regular shift into the second overtime two months after finishing cancer treatment. But it worked out, including a Flyers win. However, the real victory that day was seeing No. 23 back on the ice. -- Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor

Video: How Oskar Lindblom battled back to the ice


Sept. 15 -- Varlamov celebrates double-OT win, Sept. 15  

Semyon Varlamov wasn't ready to go home. The elation from the New York Islanders goalie was on full display when forward Jordan Eberle extended their season at 12:30 of the second overtime period in a 2-1 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final at Rogers Place in Edmonton. As the celebration began along the right-wing boards in the Lightning zone, Varlamov, who made 36 saves, skated at full speed from his crease and across center ice before diving head-first into the festivities. It was further evidence of just how committed the Islanders were despite playing in a bubble more than 2,400 miles from home. "I don't know, I just jumped because I was so excited for us," Varlamov said. "Our season was on the line today, this game. When we scored that goal, it was just a lot of emotions going through in that moment. I was just so happy for the guys and so happy for us." -- Brian Compton, deputy managing editor

Video: NYI@TBL, Gm5: Varlamov slides into the pile


Sept. 23 -- Stamkos returns, scores, sits in Cup Final 

It was too hard to imagine the Tampa Bay Lightning winning the Stanley Cup without a single on-ice contribution from captain Steven Stamkos. We didn't have to because of the most memorable goal and meaningful five shifts totaling 2:47 of ice time that Stamkos has played in his career. Stamkos, who sustained a lower-body injury before the playoffs, made his postseason debut in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final. Watching from home, you could feel the emotional lift the Lightning got through the television. Then he scored on his first and only shot of the postseason, roofing the puck into the far side from low in the right circle to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead at 6:58 of the first period. It was Stamkos' only magical moment. He didn't play another shift in the series after leaving with 6:18 remaining in the first period. But it was enough for him and the Lightning. He returned to the ice five nights later to accept the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. -- Dan Rosen, senior writer

Video: TBL@DAL, Gm3: Stamkos returns to lineup with goal


Sept. 28 -- Lightning win Stanley Cup to complete 2019-20 season

This was a crowning achievement for the Lightning, the NHL and all who participated in the League's Return to Play. Tampa Bay rebounded from being swept by the Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs and endured 65 days away from family and friends to win its second championship. After pausing the season March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, the NHL returned to action Aug. 1 and played 130 games in 59 days at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and Rogers Place in Edmonton. This required meticulous planning by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association and a group effort in Toronto and Edmonton from the players, team staff, League staff and medical personnel. More than 33,000 tests for COVID-19 were administered in the two bubbles to team personnel, including players, with zero positive results. That permitted the League to achieve its goal of completing the season safely, culminating with the Lightning skating around with the Cup at Rogers Place. -- Tom Gulitti, staff writer

Video: Lightning win Stanley Cup during NHL bubble


Oct. 6 -- Trebek announces Senators draft pick 'Jeopardy!' style 

It was quite a surprise when longtime "Jeopardy!" host Alex Trebek announced the No. 3 pick for the Ottawa Senators in the 2020 NHL Draft: left wing Tim Stuetzle of Adler Mannheim in the DEL, Germany's top pro league. Trebek, who attended the University of Ottawa and was a recipient of the Order of Canada, hosted the game show for 36 years. He died of pancreatic cancer on Nov. 8. The 80-year-old revealed the selection by first providing the answer to a question.
Answer: With the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, the Ottawa Senators selected this player.
Question: Who is Tim Stuetzle? The moment was extra special for me and my family since "Jeopardy!" is our game show of choice every night after dinner. I think Senators general manager Pierre Dorion said that "having someone with the magnitude of [Trebek] announce that early pick was great for our fans and great for the NHL." -- Mike G. Morreale, staff writer

Video: Alex Trebek announces Tim Stuetzle to Sens at No. 3

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