With the playoff teams set and the matchups nearly locked in, we saw a softer side of the NHL in the final weekend of the season. From retirements to rookie debuts, there were plenty of special individual moments.
In an odd quirk of the schedule, this weekend’s games didn't mean much for the playoff race. Every post-season team was already determined by the end of Friday, meaning all that remained this weekend was to figure out matchups and the President’s Trophy winner.
So with the battle for the Stanley Cup on pause, many teams chose to make it a weekend full of career firsts - and career lasts.
Edmonton Oiler mainstay Ryan Smyth had a glorious farewell in his last game before retirement on Saturday. There were tears, speeches and more tears as 'Captain Canada' called it a career following a 5-2 victory over the Canucks.
And in New Jersey, with the Devils eliminated from playoff competition, Martin Brodeur will get his second straight start in likely his last game with the franchise. Cory Schneider has usurped the starter’s role there, but the proud Brodeur believes he’s still got what it takes to start for a contender. With all his talk of moving on this season, he's almost certainly a goner in Jersey.
And then there was Teemu Selanne’s regular season farewell to Los Angeles. Though Selanne sat the game between his Anaheim Ducks and the Kings, the host Kings held a pre-game ceremony to honour the ‘Finnish Flash’ for his contributions to hockey in California. Then they gave him a boat, because everybody loves Teemu Selanne.
Take a look.
On the other end of things, the Toronto Maple Leafs did a few good deeds of their own with their final two games. First, they handed 30-year-old minor league goaltender Drew MacIntyre his first NHL start on Thursday against the Florida Panthers. Then, they got 21-year-old rookie Petter Granberg into his first NHL game on Saturday.
The Vancouver Canucks also worked a rookie into his first game – and their second-last of the season – when they called up 21-year-old Mike Zalewski for Saturday’s contest in Edmonton.
And in net, Saturday was all about the backup goalies. Buffalo’s Matt Hackett, Vancouver’s Jacob Markstrom, Anaheim's Frederik Andersen, Chicago’s Antti Raanta, the Phoenix Coyotes’ Mark Visentin and the Rangers’ Cam Talbot all got the start for their respective teams.
So while the drama of the weekend isn’t nearly as high as it might have been, there’s still plenty of sentimentality to soak in.
Enjoy it, because all those warm, fuzzy feelings won’t last long when the playoffs begin.