The NHL has made outdoor hockey commonplace this season, with the final outdoor game of the year held in Vancouver on March 2. Technically, the NHL got to cheat in this finale, as rain caused the retractable roof at B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver to close. Although the Ottawa Senators and Vancouver Canucks may have really played indoors, it still counted as one last outdoor showcase as the Senators pulled out a 4-2 victory.
The NHL's outdoor series started with the annual Winter Classic on New Years Day in Michigan, but expanded for five more games at Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and Vancouver. The last two games were certainly affected by the weather, as snow rained down on the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins on March 1 at Soldier Field -- yet the Senators and Canucks needed to protect themselves from the rain.
The Canucks were certainly comfortable under the roof at first, going up by 2-0 within the first five minutes. However, the Senators didn't take long to bounce back, evening the score by intermission. Cody Ceci put Ottawa ahead for good midway through the second, while goalie Craig Anderson settled down and shut Vancouver out for the last 55 minutes.
The Senators and Canucks needed this game for more than a good outdoor show, as both are hanging on the outside looking in of their respective playoff races. Ottawa stayed within three points of the East's last wild card berth in a crowded competition, while Vancouver couldn't take sole possession of the last playoff spot in the West.
With those playoff stakes in this outdoor finale, and with the Penguins and Blackhawks perhaps staging a Stanley Cup Finals preview the night before, the NHL seems to be getting luckier and luckier with this trend. Of course, now that outdoor hockey is no longer a novelty, the league risks running it into the ground the more it expands, even as expansion paid off this season.
The accompanying slideshow recaps the six entries in the NHL outdoor series this year. But now that it is over, the playoffs and Stanley Cup will have to be settled indoors like usual.