After the NHL season was suspended indefinitely due to the coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, the Washington Capitals’ crew at NBC Sports Washington is making the most of it by providing live commentary to simulated games in NHL 20.
Airing on NBC Sports Washington on March 24, the Washington Capitals and St. Louis Blues faced off in a simulated game via NHL 20. Broadcasting duo Craig Laughlin and Joe Beninati provided commentary the entire time, just as if they were watching a real hockey game.
Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom was the big star of the night, scoring the game’s first two goals and ultimately earning himself a hat trick by the end. His team only allowed three power plays during the game, keeping its virtual players on the ice to defend against an aggressive Blues attack.
The Capitals’ broadcasting team even mentioned the game was a sellout, with the fans on their feet during the most crucial moments. The virtual mascot also got pumped up during the game, cheering as Backstrom scored his third goal. Hat tricks, scoring three goals in a single game, are a rarity in the actual NHL but are fairly common in video games.
WHERE ARE THE HATS THO pic.twitter.com/XYh2nCFspz
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) March 24, 2020
With the Capitals eventually winning 5-3, reporter Taryn Bray video chatted with Backstrom to get his thoughts on his “performance.”
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) March 25, 2020
“It feels great. I mean, I don’t do hat tricks that often, so it’s always nice to seal it off with an empty-netter,” Backstrom said while visibly holding back his laughter.
Though it isn’t clear when — or if — the real NHL season will resume, Backstrom wants his team to continue dominating as it approaches late spring.
“I think we need to finish off strong so we can go in with good confidence before the playoffs,” he added. “That’s our mentality, and it has always been. It doesn’t matter if it’s video games or real life.”
NBC Sports Washington will continue airing virtual hockey games, including a scheduled match between the Capitols and the New York Rangers on Thursday. It isn’t the only sports network that has needed to get creative during the current pandemic, as ESPN recently aired a Tetris tournament rerun to fill up time originally meant for traditional sports.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the organization behind the broadcast. It was NBC Sports Washington.