Season in review: Streaks, trades, and a new-look NHL
The 2012-13 NHL regular season will be remembered for its 48-game schedule, a historic streak, some wild trades, several key injuries, intriguing playoff races and a frantic finish on the final weekend.
Here's a look at the 13 storylines that made 2012-13 memorable:
Streak, Presidents' Trophy for historic Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks went half the season without a regulation loss. Granted it was a shortened schedule, but their streak of 24 straight games with at least one point to start the season shattered the previous mark of 16, set by the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07.
The Blackhawks were 21-0-3 before the Colorado Avalanche handed them their first regulation loss. Chicago wound up running away with the Presidents' Trophy, finishing with 77 points, five more than the Pittsburgh Penguins, who couldn't catch the Blackhawks despite going 23-4-0 during their final 27 games.
Crosby, Iginla and the power of the Penguins
Right Wing - PIT
GOALS: 14 | ASST: 19 | PTS: 33
SOG: 134 | +/-: -5
Jarome Iginla literally picked the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had that right when he agreed to waive his no-movement clause to be traded to the team of his choosing. Reports that Iginla was heading to the Boston Bruins wound up being wrong; he was traded to Pittsburgh in a shocking late-night deal with the Calgary Flames.
The Penguins won 15 straight games in a perfect March, but had to play all of April without Sidney Crosby, who was sidelined with a broken jaw. They went 8-4-0 and won the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Crosby was on pace for 75 points before he got hurt March 30. With 56 points, he finished tied for third in the scoring race despite missing a quarter of the season.
Ovi's surge and the Capitals' turnaround
Alex Ovechkin had three goals through 11 games and the Washington Capitals were 2-8-1, completely lost. However, No. 8 answered his critics by adjusting to his new position, right wing, and finishing the season with a League-best 32 goals to win the Rocket Richard Trophy.
Ovechkin scored 20 goals and dished out 12 assists for 32 points during the final 19 games to help the Capitals win 15 games and pick up 32 points. Washington was nine points off the pace for first place in the Southeast Division on March 21; it wound up winning the division by six points.
Fasth start for the Ducks
Goalie - ANA
GAA: 2.18 | SVP: 0.921
While the Blackhawks were the talk of the League during their 24-game point streak, the Anaheim Ducks quietly hung right with Chicago by going 22-3-4 through March 20. Anaheim got within two points of Chicago in early April before going into a slump and letting the Blackhawks run away with the top spot in the Western Conference.
The Ducks surprisingly did a lot of their damage with a 30-year-old first-year NHL goaltender. Viktor Fasth was 8-0-0 by the middle of February and finished the regular season with 15 wins, four shutouts, a .921 save percentage and a 2.18 goals-against average.
Gallagher and Galchenyuk were fun to watch as they combined for 55 points. The Canadiens fed off their energy and were one of the best offensive teams in the League (3.04 goals-per-game) with the fifth-ranked power play (20.7 percent).
Realignment and the revamped NHL for 2013-14
The League's realignment plan was officially approved March 14, creating a geographically centric, unbalanced two-conference, four-division set up that moves the Detroit Red Wings and Columbus Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference and the Winnipeg Jets to the Western Conference.
Detroit will play in a division that includes three fellow Original Six franchises (Montreal, Toronto, Boston), as well as Buffalo, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay. The Blue Jackets move into a division that includes Carolina and six former Patrick Division teams (Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Washington, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey).
Winnipeg will move into a division with Minnesota, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas and Colorado. Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose, Phoenix, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary will all play in another division.
Boston and the Bruins, perfect together
Goalie - BOS
GAA: 2.00 | SVP: 0.929
The Boston Bruins embraced their role as ambassadors for the city starting with their game against the Buffalo Sabres two nights after Boston was rocked when a pair of bombs exploded at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. The fans packed TD Garden and joined Rene Rancourt in singing the national anthem loudly and proudly, creating a moment that will never be forgotten.
So what if the Bruins lost to the Sabres in a shootout. And so what if they lost to the Penguins in regulation the following Saturday, roughly 14 hours after the city came out of a lockdown created by one of America's most intense manhunts.
Ruff among quintet victimized by losing
An inconsistent start was enough to finally force the Buffalo Sabres to move on from coach Lindy Ruff, who arrived in 1997 and led the team through 1,165 regular-season games. Ruff was fired on Feb. 20, one night after a 2-1 loss to Winnipeg dropped the Sabres to 6-10-1.
Eight days before Ruff was fired, Columbus Blue Jackets president John Davidson announced that Scott Howson would no longer be the team's general manager. He was replaced by Jarmo Kekalainen, the first European general manager in NHL history. Howson eventually landed with the Edmonton Oilers as senior vice president of hockey operations (He worked for the Oilers from 2002-07).
Guy Boucher's tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning wasn't nearly as long as Ruff's in Buffalo, but it came to an end after two-plus seasons on March 24 following a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators. The Lightning were 13-17-1 despite being plus-eight in goals (102-94).
The Colorado Avalanche also acted quickly at the end of the season, dismissing coach Joe Sacco one day after his fourth-season finale. After making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in Sacco's first season, the Avalanche haven't been back.
Kekalainen's big deadline play nearly pays dividends
Right Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 12 | ASST: 15 | PTS: 27
SOG: 151 | +/-: -3
The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs by one point, but if nothing else the organization showed its hand as one that is going to pull out all the stops to win. That's what Davidson sold ownership on when he was hired during the summer and it's what Kekalainen proved a month-and-a-half after he was named general manager.
Kekalainen pulled off a last-minute stunner on April 3, NHL Trade Deadline day, when he acquired Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers. It was a trade that showed the Blue Jackets, their fans and the entire NHL that this organization has turned the page to a new chapter and wants to be a winner.
Columbus was a winner this season with a 24-17-7 record. It went 8-1-0 during its last nine games and 20-5-2 from March 3 to the end of the season. The Blue Jackets didn't make the playoffs, but one thing is for sure: They're for real now.
The Maple Leafs and the playoffs
Not since 2004 have fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a reason to watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They do now after their team broke a nine-year spell and made the playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Nazem Kadri proved the organization was right to bring him along slowly as the forward played with maturity this season and finished second on the team with 44 points, including 18 goals.
Goaltender James Reimer was close to being replaced at the deadline by Roberto Luongo, but Toronto general manager Dave Nonis decided not to pull the trigger on a blockbuster with the Vancouver Canucks, sending a vote of confidence in Reimer's direction. The 25-year-old answered by playing well down the stretch to help Toronto clinch a playoff berth with a week to spare.
Ottawa rode one of the League's best defenses, thanks in part to the fill-in goaltending from Robin Lehner, to the playoffs. The Senators had the worst goals-per-game among the 16 playoff teams, but were second in the NHL in goals-against and first in penalty killing.
Tavares, the Islanders and the playoffs
John Tavares played like a Hart Trophy candidate all season, but his teammates jumped on board in March and helped the No. 1 pick get the New York Islanders into the playoffs for the first time since 2007, a surprise considering they were 8-11-2 and stuck in 12th place when the calendar flipped.
Tavares was doing his part with 13 goals and 25 points through February, but in March, Evgeni Nabokov turned into an elite goalie again, Josh Bailey picked up his play, and the Islanders became a more balanced 200-foot team. They went 16-5-4 during their next 25 games to clinch a playoff spot with two games to spare.
The Flyers struggled from the outset and never found their footing. They were 2-5-0 through January and 10-11-1 through February. Their best month was April, when they went 8-5-0, but that included a season-ending four-game winning streak that came after they were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.
The Devils had a hot start, but couldn't overcome injuries to Martin Brodeur and Ilya Kovalchuk. They were 3-7-2 in the 12 games Brodeur missed with a sore back and 1-6-4 in the 11 games Kovalchuk missed with a shoulder injury. The Devils, who were 8-1-3 through a quarter of the season, went 9-16-6 from Feb. 23 to the end of the season.