At noon CET on April 11, 2015 — before the puck dropped on any of the 15 games scheduled to end the National Hockey League’s 2014-15 regular season, New York Islanders‘ center and captain John Tavares looked like a pretty good bet to win the Art Ross Trophy for having scored the most points in the season. Sure, starting that day, he was tied with Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins with 84 points each, but Crosby and his teammates had more pressing concerns.
Those concerns were whether the Penguins would win against the Buffalo Sabres, one of two teams competing for the worst team in the league, to get them playoff bound. Despite the Sabres’ season-long capacity for disappointing, their goalie, Anders Lindback, was slated to start, coming off a win against the Carolina Hurricanes, after saving an impressive 49 out of the 52 shots made on goal.
Life and the Expected Five Holes
The Penguins and Islanders both had 7:00 pm start times, so the winner of the Art Ross would probably be decided by the time those two games ended. But life seldom gives you the five holes you expect.
Despite a recent five-game losing streak, the Penguins’ confidence was pretty high for a win against the Sabres. A win would guarantee a wildcard entry into the playoffs and it was the only thing on the Penguins’ minds: a loss would probably mean that instead of packing their bags to head out to game one of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they would be booking tee times instead, watching the Boston Bruins play in their place.
Crosby Unchanged, at 84
The first period came and went without a goal on either side, but Crosby looked like he was going to be a playmaker every time he got on the ice. He got a 2:00 minute penalty for roughing Lindback, and vice versa. Then at the 14:23 mark of the 2nd period, Pittsburgh finally got on the board with a goal by center, Brandon Sutter, which ended up being the game winning goal. Sutter scored again in the 3rd frame, but Crosby gained no points. How could he? It wasn’t his line on the ice when the goals were scored! The 27-year-old made just two shots on goal all night and, game over, Crosby’s regular season points remained unchanged, at 84.
A Bit Further Down in New York State…
Meanwhile, further down the State of New York, in Uniondale, the game wasn’t over just yet. The New York Islanders had been hopeful for a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the Blue Jackets weren’t about to play out the end of their season by kowtowing to anyone. Out of the playoff picture, the team had stepped up their game in the second half of the year, including a nine-game winning streak that shocked some of the best teams in the League.
It was a game of back-and-forths: Columbus scored first in the first; the Islanders equalized in the second. Then, in the third period, it was a scoring frenzy. The Islanders popped in two, followed by two by Columbus, and, by the end of regulation, the game was tied at 4 apiece and the 24-year-old Tavares had bagged a goal and an assist and was 2 points ahead of Crosby.
Two Points Clear of Crosby
In the overtime shootout that followed a scoreless overtime period, Tavares performed again, scoring on the Blue Jacket’s goaltender, 31-year-old Curtis McElhinney. But Tavares was the only hand clapping: his teammates couldn’t slip another one pass McElhinney and Tavares’ goal was the only shootout goal the Islanders would get. Columbus took the OT win, in the 4th shootout frame. Tavares two points were all he got, but now, with 86 points, it looked like the Art Ross Trophy would be his.
Halfway Across the Continent
More than halfway across the continent from both Uniondale and Buffalo, the 8:00 game had just begun, pitting the Nashville Predators against the Dallas Stars. Nashville was already guaranteed a playoff position, and the Preds were resting their #1 goalie, 32-year-old Pekka Rinne. Dallas was out of the playoffs and not close enough to garner even a wildcard, but their talent was far more spectacular than their standings would imply. Leading the Stars was their captain, Jamie Benn, who had started the day one point behind both Crosby and Tavares, at 83.
The Hat Trick and the Assist
As it turned out, April 11, 2015 was the night the stars aligned to let the 25-year-old from North Saanich, B.C. score a hat trick and then get a secondary assist with 9 seconds left in the game to steal the Art Ross Trophy away. Benn’s last goal was an empty-netter but it was no gift: a win by the Predators would give them home-rink advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and pulling their goalie might give them the equalizing goal they needed to at least push that game, now at 2-1, into overtime.
But, as goalie pulls often go, the plan backfired and with the Benn’s second attempt to hit the empty net, he scored his 3rd, his hat trick goal. Hundreds of hats rained down on the ice in celebration of Benn’s 35th goal of the season, marking his second career hat trick; the first one happened eight weeks before in a February 17th 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues. It was now 3-1, with 2:05 left in the 3rd period.
The play was stopped as the ice crew collected the hundreds of hats, and when the face off finally took place, Benn’s line was still on the ice, but not for long.
They’d been out there long enough. They were tired, and it was time for a line change.
The play went on and, as the seconds ran off the clock, the Dallas Stars’ fans knew that Benn was close to winning the Art Ross Trophy, but not close enough. The crowd was on their feet, screaming “Benn! Benn! Benn!” If their team was shutout of the playoffs again this season — for the sixth time in seven years — at least they could spend the long, hot summer happy knowing their Captain was gold and, if not the best player, the second best player in the league.
And then the Stars Aligned
Then Benn got on the ice one last time.
The Stars were threatening to score again, deep in the Predators’ zone, buzzing around their net. Benn, back at the blue line, got the puck and made a shot on goal that was deflected to the left-hand side of the net, and it looked like Nashville’s Viktor Stalberg would clear the puck out of their zone for the last time this season in Dallas.
But that never happened. Benn skated towards Stalberg and as the 25-year-old Swede made his pass, Benn was right in front of him and and the puck, for an instant, landed on his stick before he passed it on to Trevor Daley. Daley then passed it to Cody Eakin, who, with 9 seconds left on the clock, slipped the puck past Predators’ goaltender, Carter Hutton. The crowd was ecstatic, clapping, cheering, on their feet, waiting for the announcement of the goal.
Would Benn be awarded the assist?
Would Benn be awarded the secondary assist? The play resumed and as the final seconds ran out, the announcement of the details of the Stars’ final goal of the season was made. The stars had aligned. Jamie Benn was given the secondary assist and with it, the 4 points he needed to win the Art Ross Trophy with 87 points. Everyone knew their captain, and their Stars, had aligned to ensure the Art Ross would be in the hands of Jamie Benn.
Then the crowd went wild again.
Art Ross was born in Naughton, Ontario in 1886, he played defense and in his era, no one played better than him. As a player, he made a great contribution to how defenders play the game — skating with the puck up the ice instead of always just passing it to a forward.
After his playing career ended, Ross became a hockey manager and coach, and was the Boston Bruins’ first coach-cum-manager in 1925. Ross improvised the puck, too, adding notches to it that is still used today.
Ross himself presented the first Art Ross Trophy to the leading point scorer of the NHL in 1947-48 season to center Elmer Lach of the Montreal Canadiens. Lach, who died earlier this month, racked up 61 points that season, playing on the Punch line, with right winger Maurice Richard, and Toe Blake at left wing.
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