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Top storylines that shaped hockey in 2019

'Gloria,' Gritty, coaching carousel, Laila among those from memorable year

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The NHL is set to enter a new decade, one that will bring hope and opportunities to a League that is growing ever younger, faster and more exciting by the year.

Before we ring in 2020, let's look back at 19 moments, places, people and events that shaped 2019 (in chronological order):

1. Cheer, cheer for old Notre Dame

The year began with the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks playing in the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium. 

The setting felt like a college football Saturday, with the Bruins and Blackhawks entering the iconic football stadium down the tunnel many gridiron legends have walked with the South Bend Symphony Orchestra performing Notre Dame's famous fight song.

The Bruins won 4-2 in front of 76,126 at the sold-out stadium.

Video: BOS@CHI: Kuraly nets rebound in front for 3-2 lead


2. Play 'Gloria'

The St. Louis Blues were last in the NHL standings on Jan. 3. Three nights later, five Blues players were at The Jacks NYB in Philadelphia the night before a game against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Gloria," Laura Branigan's hit from 1982, was played by a DJ during commercial breaks of the NFL playoff game they were watching. Forwards Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbri, and defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson walked out singing the song.

They defeated the Flyers 3-0 the next night, with Jordan Binnington making his first NHL start. "Gloria" became the Blues' victory song. They sang it all the way to a Stanley Cup championship on June 12 and a victory parade through St. Louis three days later.

The Blues defeated the Boston Bruins 4-1 at TD Garden in the 17th Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final history.

They were the first team in the NHL expansion era (since 1967-68) to reach the Stanley Cup Final after being last in the standings at any point after playing its 20th game of the season. 

Binnington went 24-5-1 with a .927 save percentage, 1.89 goals-against average and five shutouts in the regular season. He was 16-10 with a .914 save percentage and 2.46 GAA in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Ryan O'Reilly won the Conn Smythe Trophy. 

Video: #ThirstForTheCup: Blues stand on top of the mountain


3. Gritty ziplines and streaks

Gritty, the Flyers mascot made a grand entrance at the 2019 NHL Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Field on Feb. 23, ziplining down to the field from atop the stadium while wearing a light-up LED suit. 

Then, backed by the "Rocky" theme, Gritty climbed the steps that were made to look like the entrance to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. If that wasn't enough, Gritty went streaking on the field wearing nothing but his helmet and being chased by his own security team.

Claude Giroux's goal gave the Flyers a 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Video: PIT@PHI: Gritty enters, sports legends honored


4. 'Q' to the Panthers, spinning coaching carousel

Joel Quenneville gave the Florida Panthers hope of getting back into the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and the third time since 2001 when he was hired as their coach on April 8, replacing Bob Boughner, who was fired three days earlier. 

Quenneville, the three-time Stanley Cup champion coach with the Chicago Blackhawks, won his 900th game on Nov. 16. He is second all-time in wins (908) behind Scotty Bowman (1,244).

Alain Vigneault was named coach of the Philadelphia Flyers on April 15. Todd McLellan was hired by the Los Angeles Kings a day later.

The Buffalo Sabres hired Ralph Krueger on May 15 after he spent the past five seasons as chairman of the Southampton Football Club in the English Premier League. Eight days later, the Ottawa Senators gave D.J. Smith his first NHL head coaching job. Five days after that, the Oilers hired Dave Tippett.

Finally, on June 17 the Anaheim Ducks named Dallas Eakins their new head coach, bringing him up from the American Hockey League, where he spent four seasons coaching in San Diego.


5. Columbus' sweep

The Columbus Blue Jackets won a playoff series for the first time, sweeping the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, who tied an NHL record with 62 wins in the 2018-19 regular season.

It was the first time the Presidents' Trophy winner didn't win a game in the playoffs.

The Blue Jackets lost to the Bruins in six games in the second round, but the sweep vindicated the moves made by general manager Jarmo Kekalainen in the regular season. 

He acquired pending unrestricted free agent forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in trades, and kept goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin, who were also pending UFAs, to go all in for a playoff spot. None of the four re-signed with Columbus.

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Jackets, Lightning shake hands


6. Double OT thriller

Brock McGinn's goal 11:05 into the second overtime gave the Carolina Hurricanes a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Washington Capitals, then the defending Stanley Cup champions, in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Capital One Arena on April 24.

The Hurricanes, who ended the longest playoff drought in the NHL (nine seasons) by making it as the first wild card from the East, trailed 2-0 and 3-2 in the best-of-7 series but rallied each time. They trailed 2-0 in Game 7.

Video: CAR@WSH, Gm7: McGinn scores in 2OT to win series


7. A major ending

Game 7 of the Western Conference First Round between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights on April 23 was looking like a washout. The Golden Knights had a 3-0 lead in the third period until forward Cody Eakin was assessed a major penalty for cross checking Sharks forward Joe Pavelski.

Replay showed that Vegas center Paul Stastny skated into Pavelski after Eakin's cross check knocked him off balance. Pavelski fell to the ice, on his head, and was bleeding as he was being helped off.

San Jose scored four power-play goals in a span of 4:01 to take a 4-3 lead. Vegas forward Jonathan Marchessault tied the game at 4-4 with 47 seconds remaining in the third period, but Sharks forward Barclay Goodrow ended it by scoring 18:19 into overtime.

The NHL began enforcing a rule this season that requires referees to do an on-ice video review for all non-fighting major and match penalties they assess to confirm the penalty or reduce it to a two-minute minor penalty.

Video: VGK@SJS, Gm7: Sharks rally with four goals, win in OT


8. 'Big Rig' with the big goal

St. Louis-native Pat Maroon, then with the Blues, scored in double overtime of Game 7 against the Dallas Stars to lift his hometown team into the Western Conference Final on May 8.

Maroon's son, Anthony, wept in the stands after his father scored. Maroon's mother, Patti, wept in the family room, unable to watch, needing to be told it was her son who scored.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Maroon's 2OT goal sends Blues to WCF

9. Laila Anderson

Anderson, an 11-year-old superfan of the Blues, became an inspiration for the Stanley Cup champions.

Anderson, who is battling a life-threatening autoimmune disease called hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis, forged a friendship with several Blues players, in particular Steen and defenseman Colton Parayko, after meeting them at the St. Louis Children's Hospital.

A video of her crying after learning the news that she would be healthy enough to attend Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on May 15 went viral.

Anderson attended six home playoff games before another video of her crying tears of joy went viral because it was her mother telling her she was well enough to fly to Boston to be at Game 7 of the Cup Final.

She was on the ice after the game. She kissed the Cup. The Blues gave her a championship ring.

Video: Laila Anderson inspired the Blues' historic run


10. Ovation for Chara

Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, wearing a face shield to protect his broken jaw, received a massive and long ovation from the fans at TD Garden when he was introduced in the starting lineup prior to Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 6.

Chara broke his jaw in Game 4 three days earlier and it wasn't clear if he would be able to play again in the Final.

Video: STL@BOS, Gm5: Fans give Chara rousing ovation


11. Kucherov's hat trick

Last season didn't end the way Nikita Kucherov wanted, but it was still a magical year for the Lightning right wing. Kucherov finished with a League-high 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), the most by a Russia-born player in NHL history. 

At the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas on June 19, Kucherov received the Art Ross Trophy as the League's leading scorer, won the Ted Lindsay Award for the most valuable player as voted on by the players, and the Hart Trophy, which is given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team as voted on by members of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association.

Video: Kucherov wins the Hart Trophy


12. Lehner's speech

Robin Lehner's big revealing moment actually came last year, when in a story the goalie wrote for The Athletic he let the world know of his mental illness and bipolar disorder, of his drinking and suicidal thoughts, of his time in a rehab facility.

Lehner, now with the Chicago Blackhawks, went on to win the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy for perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey last season, when he was also a Vezina Trophy finalist voted for the top goalie in the League with the New York Islanders. 

In his heartfelt speech at the NHL Awards, Lehner said, "I'm not ashamed to say I'm mentally ill, but that doesn't mean mentally weak." 

Video: Robin Lehner awarded the Masterton Trophy


13. Hughes and Kakko, Devils and Rangers

The "Battle of the Hudson" got a jolt when the New Jersey Devils won the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery and the New York Rangers won the No. 2 pick.

The Devils selected United States-born center Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick and the Rangers didn't even have to think before taking Finland-born right wing Kaapo Kakko No. 2 at the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver on June 22. 

Video: The crew discusses Hughes going first to the Devils


14. America's Draft day

It was a historic first day of the 2019 NHL Draft for the United States, when a record-setting 11 United States-born players were taken in the first round, including eight from the United States National Team Development Program.

The USNDTP players selected: Hughes (No. 1, Devils), forward Alex Turcotte (No. 5, Kings), forward Trevor Zegras (No. 9, Ducks), forward Matthew Boldy (No. 12, Minnesota Wild), goalie Spencer Knight (No. 13, Panthers), defenseman Cameron York (No. 14, Flyers), forward Cole Caufield (No. 15, Montreal Canadiens) and forward John Beecher (No. 30, Bruins).

The other three selected in the first round were defenseman Thomas Harley from Mississauga of the Ontario Hockey League (No. 18, Dallas Stars), defenseman Nolan Foote from Kelowna of the Western Hockey League (No. 27, Lightning) and defenseman Ryan Johnson from Sioux Falls of the USHL (No. 31, Sabres).


15. Francis hired by Seattle

Ron Francis, a Hockey Hall of Famer, was hired to be the first general manager of the NHL expansion team in Seattle on July 18. The Seattle franchise begins play in the 2021-22 season. Francis spent four seasons as the Hurricanes GM (2014-18).


16. Lacrosse on ice

Hurricanes forward Andrei Svechnikov wowed with a lacrosse-style goal against the Calgary Flames on Oct. 29, settling the puck on his stick blade behind the net and tucking it into the top left corner of the net.

Svechnikov is the only player in NHL history to score a goal with the lacrosse move. He did it again while on the move against the Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 17.

Video: CAR@WPG: Svechnikov nets second lacrosse-style goal


17. More coaching changes

There have been five coaching changes this season, starting on Nov. 20, when Mike Babcock was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs and replaced by first-time NHL coach Sheldon Keefe.

Bill Peters resigned as the coach of the Flames on Nov. 29 following allegations of racism from former player Akim Aliu from when he was coaching in Rockford of the AHL 10 years ago. Geoff Ward replaced him. New Jersey fired John Hynes and replaced him with Alain Nasreddine on Dec. 3. Jim Montgomery was fired by the Dallas Stars on Dec. 10 because of "unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of" the Stars and the NHL. Rick Bowness is the Stars new coach.

San Jose fired Peter DeBoer and replaced him with Boughner on Dec. 11.


18. Aliu's tweets create push for social change

Aliu was not on the League's social conscience Nov. 25, when he tweeted allegations of racism against Peters. His tweets and other subsequent allegations of physical abuse by players against Peters and other coaches sparked the NHL to fast forward a strategic plan focused on culture and inclusion that it had already been working on.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced a four-point plan aimed at sensitizing team personnel and players to abusive behavior of any kind and raising awareness among them in hopes of eliminating future incidents in the League's Board of Governors meeting on Dec. 9.


19. OskarStrong

The Philadelphia Flyers announced forward Oskar Lindblom was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, on Dec. 13. 

The Flyers have been wearing black and purple OskarStrong T-shirts under their jerseys since Dec. 19. They will wear them for the rest of the season. 

The shirts, made by Biscuit Tees, a Philadelphia-area company owned by Kim Parent, daughter of Flyers Hall of Fame goalie Bernie Parent, are also on sale to the public with more than $100,000 raised for the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer charity through last week.

Other teams have since been requesting the shirts to wear under their jerseys.

Video: ANA@PHI: Flyers, fans show support for Oskar Lindblom

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