The fist-bumps began at the Philadelphia Flyers bench, then continued with the Carolina Hurricanes. One long line of gloves.
Truth is, there may never have been a shootout goal quite like it.
With the Canes and Flyers tied after overtime Sunday, in the season finale in Philadelphia, Canes coach Bill Peters didn’t hesitate – in his mind, didn’t make the same mistake twice. Out went Bryan Bickell to take the Canes’ first shootout shot.
Bickell was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, and Sunday’s game was his last. Flyers fans at the Wells Fargo Center already had given him a standing ovation as both teams tapped their sticks as a salute.
“There’s a lot of respect among the hockey community for Bryan Bickell, and the fight he’s fighting and is going to continue to fight,” Peters said.
Bickell didn’t hesitate on the shootout shot, either. Grabbing the puck with speed, the forward ripped a shot that zinged the metal and beat goalie Anthony Stolarz.
“I think the hockey gods stepped up and gave me the opportunity,” said Bickell, who received the fist-bumps from both benches, and caused a lot of goosebumps, after the shot.
It wasn’t the winning shootout goal. Brock McGinn, who scored twice in the game, finished off the shootout with another as the Canes won 4-3.
McGinn, realizing he wasn’t the hero this night, quickly pivoted and headed to the Canes bench. Bickell was out on the ice, being mobbed, everyone gathering around No. 29 for a group hug.
Talk about an emotional 48 hours. Bickell, 31, said Saturday that he planned to retire from the NHL. Earlier Saturday, he and his family took part in an MS charity walk at PNC Arena, only to be surprised when the Canes – players, coaches, management, equipment managers, hockey staff – were all on hand to offer their support.
The Canes lost the final home game to the St. Louis Blues 5-4 in a shootout. In his postgame news conference, Peters was asked about not using Bickell and was upset with himself for not thinking of it.
Peters said he saw Bickell on the way to the parking lot afterward and apologized. As for Bickell, he said he understood.
But Peters was given a second chance Sunday, saying, “Thank God it worked out.”
And Bickell scored.
“That’s the way it’s supposed to go, right?” Peters said. “As fate would have it …”
The Canes’ Sebastian Aho scored on a late power play in the third for the 3-3 tie. Both teams had their chances to win in overtime, but it went to a shootout, and Bickell had his chance, with family and friends in the stands to see it, cheer it, be a part of it.
How cool was that?
“I think I sweat all the tears out, so I don’t have much left,” Bickell joked.
Peters said the ending won’t be forgotten. Nor, he said, would anyone forget Bickell’s bravery in being told he has a disease with no cure, at such a young age, but handling it with courage and determination and working his way back into the NHL before the season ended.
“You’re cruising along, 31 years old, life is good, three Stanley Cup rings, playing in the National Hockey League, great family, wonderful wife, two beautiful daughters, and then all of a sudden you get the news,” Peters said “That’s a game-changer. That’s a life changer.
“When people say don’t take things for granted and appreciate what you have and live life to its fullest every day – there’s Exhibit A right there. He won’t be forgotten.”