15 of the Most Memorable Days in NHL History
The NHL has produced a lot of special moments since its founding in 1917. There have been championships, comebacks and record-setting nights.
But here is a look at the 15 most memorable, the 15 nights that stand out above all others. They are presented in chronological order.
Many of the greatest players and teams in league history are prominently featured in this list.
Feel free to mention any games you feel I may have missed and indicate why they belong on this final 15.
Now sit back and enjoy the NHL's 15 most memorable moments.
Rocket Richard Scores 50 Goals in 50 Games
The Montreal Canadiens' Maurice "Rocket" Richard became the first player ever to score 50 goals in a season and established himself as the premier goal scorer in the game on March 18, 1945.
Richard scored his 50th with just 2:15 left in the third period of the final game of the season at the Boston Garden. The Habs went on to win the game 4-2.
No other player reached 50 goals in 50 games again until Mike Bossy did it in 1981.
To show how dominant Richard was that season, he finished with 50 goals in 50 games. The next-highest goal scorer in the NHL that season was Boston's Herb Cain, who had 32. No other player topped 30 goals in a season.
The Richard Riot
The Richard Riot started on March 17, 1955.
NHL President Clarence Campbell made the mistake of attending a game at the Montreal Forum just days after suspending Rocket Richard for striking a linesman on March 13. Campbell suspended Richard for the rest of the season and playoffs that season, a penalty that many in Montreal felt was too severe.
The fans in Montreal felt that Campbell had been too harsh with Richard and that part of the reason for that was his French-Canadian heritage.
When Campbell showed up at the Forum, the fans got angry and a riot ensued that continued outside of the arena and into the streets.
By the time it was over, there were roughly 100 arrests and 37 injuries as a result of the violence. In addition, the property damage totaled $100,000.
Without "The Rocket," the Habs fell to Detroit in seven games in the Stanley Cup Final. Montreal went on to win the cup the next five straight seasons after that, a record that still stands.
Richard was reinstated at the start of the next season.
Bob Baun Scores in Overtime on a Broken Leg
Maple Leafs defenseman Bob Baun scored one of the most improbable goals in NHL history during Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings.
Baun suffered a broken bone in his leg during the third period of the game with the Leafs trailing in the series 3-2. He was removed on a stretcher.
In overtime, Baun managed to return to the ice and scored the game-winning goal that kept his team's title hopes alive. Toronto went on to win Game 7 and the Stanley Cup.
Baun scored only 37 goals in his NHL career which lasted from 1956 until 1973 although he was known as one of the hardest hitters but cleanest players in the league for most of his career.
Despite all that, Baun is best remembered for the goal he scored in 1964 which helped make Toronto's third straight championship possible.
Bobby Hull Scores No. 51
On March 12, 1966, Chicago's Bobby Hull became the first player in NHL history to score more than 50 goals in a season.
Hull scored twice that night against the Rangers to tie and then pass Rocket Richard's mark set 21 years earlier.
The crowd at Chicago Stadium gave Hull a lengthy ovation after accomplishing this feat.
"The Golden Jet" finished the 1965-66 season with 54 goals, a new all-time record. He was the best goal scorer of his era and one of the best in NHL history.
Expansion Finally Comes to the NHL
It was a move that was long overdue. On June 6, 1967, the NHL held an expansion draft that welcomed six new teams into the league: the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and California Seals.
In one day, the league doubled in size from six teams to 12. There had been only six teams in the league for 25 years.
The new teams were all placed in the West Division, which guaranteed four of them would qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
In each of the first three seasons after "The Great Expansion," the St. Louis Blues represented the West in the Stanley Cup Final. They were swept in all three series.
It took a while, but the "Second Six" eventually did catch up to the Original Six clubs once the common draft evened out the search for talent.
Bobby Orr Flies Through the Air
Bobby Orr scored one of the most famous goals in NHL history on May 10, 1970 at the Boston Garden.
The goal came in the first minute of overtime and clinched the first Stanley Cup championship for the Bruins in 29 years.
The goal became famous for the photo of Orr "flying through the air." After he scored, he was tripped up by St. Louis defenseman Noel Picard, and a famous photo caught Orr as he was nearly parallel to the ice, his hands outstretched in triumph (and to help break his fall).
This capped off a great season for Orr, who became the first defenseman in NHL history to top the 100-point mark in a season and became the first and only blueliner to win the Art Ross Trophy as the league's top scorer.
It was the first of two titles for Orr and the "Big Bad Bruins" in three years.
Flyers Become the First Expansion Team to Win the Stanley Cup
The Philadelphia Flyers became the first expansion team to win the Stanley Cup in 1974, the seventh season of their existence.
The Flyers defeated two Original Six teams en route to their title. After beating the Atlanta Flames in the first round, they Flyers defeated the Rangers in seven games in the semifinals before defeating the heavily favored Bruins in six games to win the Stanley Cup.
The Flyers were the toughest team in the league. They literally brawled their way to back-to-back titles in 1974-75 and became known as "The Broad Street Bullies."
Coach Fred Shero studied Russian training and passing methods and combined that with intimidation to produce a new way to win hockey games.
Star players in 1973-74 included Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Dave Schultz, Bill Flett, Gary Dornhoeffer, Ed Van Impe and goalie Bernie Parent.
Too Many Men Helps the Habs Dynasty Continue
The Montreal Canadiens had won three straight Stanley Cups in 1976, 1977 and 1978. The Habs had one of the most talented teams of all time, featuring players like Guy Lafleur, Ken Dryden, Larry Robinson, Serge Savard, Guy Lapointe, Jacques Lemaire, Yvan Cournoyer, Bob Gainey and Steve Shutt.
In the final two years of that streak they had defeated Don Cherry's Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
In the 1979 semifinal, it appeared the Bruins would end the Canadiens' long run. They led Game 7 of the series by one goal with less than two minutes remaining in the third period.
Just when it seemed Montreal's reign was over, the Bruins were called for too many men on the ice. Lafleur scored on the ensuing power play and sent the game to overtime. Montreal won the game in OT to advance to the Stanley Cup Final.
Once there, they defeated the New York Rangers in five games to win their fourth straight championship.
Shortly after this loss, Cherry was fired as coach of the Bruins. He later coached the Colorado Rockies for one season before starting a successful career as an analyst for CBC.
Gordie Howe's Introduction, 1980 All-Star Game
The great Gordie Howe retired from hockey in 1971 after 25 seasons with the Red Wings.
But after sitting for two seasons, "Mr. Hockey" was enticed to return with the WHA's Houston Aeros when he was given the chance to play with his sons Mark and Marty.
Howe played another six seasons in the WHA with the Aeros and New England Whalers until the NHL absorbed four WHA teams including the Hartford Whalers.
So, in 1979-80, Howe was back for one final season in the NHL at the age of 51.
It just so happened the 1980 All-Star Game was to be played at the new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Howe was selected to the team to represent the Whalers.
The highlight of the game was player introductions when the fans of Detroit got one last chance to show their appreciation for the man who had given his all for their team for a quarter of a century.
"Mr. Hockey" is one of the toughest players in NHL history, but even he was moved by the reception the fans of the Motor City gave him on that night.
Howe had one assist in the game as the Wales Conference defeated the Campbell Conference 6-3.
Bob Nystrom Starts the Islanders Dynasty
The New York Islanders won four straight Stanley Cups from 1980-1983. The Isles had great balance and talent up and down their roster from goalie Billy Smith to Hall of Famers Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Clark Gillies and Denis Potvin.
The Isles had been upset in the playoffs the previous two seasons and had acquired a reputation as playoff underachievers.
GM Bill Torrey traded for center Butch Goring from Los Angeles at the trade deadline in 1980 and it served as the final piece of the puzzle.
The Islanders reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history and faced their division rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers had won the Patrick Division that season and had an NHL-record 35-game unbeaten streak (25-0-10).
The Isles led the series 3-2 with Game 6 scheduled for the Nassau Coliseum on May 24, 1980. The game went into overtime before Bob Nystrom scored the game-winner at 7:11 of the extra session.
The Isles would go on to win a record 19 straight playoff series and three more Stanley Cups before the Edmonton Oilers ended their dynasty in 1984.
Gretzky Scores 50 Goals in 39 Games
Rocket Richard set an NHL record by scoring 50 goals in 50 games in 1945. Mike Bossy tied the mark in 1981, but nobody had beaten it.
In 1981-82, Wayne Gretzky didn't just break the record, he obliterated it. Gretzky scored 50 goals in just 39 games with the final five coming on December 30, 1981, against the Flyers. The fifth and final goal was an empty-netter which helped Gretzky reach the 50-goal milestone.
Gretzky finished the season with a record 92 goals and 212 points, but everybody still remembers the magic night he reached 50 goals in 39 games.
Mario Lemieux Scores Five Goals, Five Ways
Never let it be said that Mario Lemieux doesn't know how to ring in the new year.
On December 31, 1988, Lemieux pulled off a feat nobody had ever accomplished in an NHL game. He scored five goals in five ways: even strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot and empty net.
Lemieux added three assists in the game for an eight-point night.
The Penguins went on to an 8-6 win over the New Jersey Devils that night, which means that "Super Mario" had a part in each of his club's eight goals.
To date, Lemieux remains the only player in NHL history to score five goals in five ways in a single game.
The Rangers End 54 Years of Futility
The New York Rangers had not won the Stanley Cup in more than half a century and the drought was beyond monumental.
The Rangers had tried to bring in stars to get them over the top, but future Hall of Famers like Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne had all failed to help the Rangers reach the promised land.
Finally, in 1991, GM Neil Smith traded for Mark Messier from Edmonton. The Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy that year but lost to the Penguins in the second round of the playoffs. In 1992-93, they failed to even qualify for the playoffs.
But in 1993-94, the Rangers again finished with the league's best record and went on to win their first championship in 54 years.
The Rangers breezed through the first two rounds of the playoffs against the Islanders and Capitals before winning an epic seven-game series over the Devils in the Eastern Conference Final.
In the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers held a 3-1 lead over the Vancouver Canucks and seemed ready to celebrate, but the Canucks won Game 5 and Game 6 to force a seventh and deciding game at Madison Square Garden.
New York held on for a 3-2 victory, which sent the fans home happy for the first time since 1940.
As Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen said, "This one will last a lifetime!"
Wings Pass the Cup to Vladimir Konstantinov
It remains one of the most moving moments in NHL history. The Detroit Red Wings had just won their second straight Stanley Cup in 1998 when former Red Wings player Vladimir Konstantinov was passed the Stanley Cup while sitting in his wheelchair.
Konstantinov was partially paralyzed in a limousine accident a few days after Detroit's 1997 Stanley Cup win. Obviously, it ended his hockey career and nearly cost him his life.
The sight of Konstantinov being passed the Cup was a special one as the Russian defenseman celebrated with his former teammates who still considered him a part of the team.
The Red Wings also requested and the NHL granted permission to have Konstantinov's name engraved on the Stanley Cup for 1997-98.
Gretzky's Last NHL Game
April 18, 1999, was the final day of the great hockey career of Wayne Gretzky.
"The Great One" announced he would hang up his skates for good at the end of the 1998-99 season, and the final game of the season became a love-in for the NHL's all-time leading scorer.
Bryan Adams sang the Canadian national anthem and added Gretzky's name to the lyrics while John Amirante added it to the Star Spangled Banner.
Gretzky added one final assist to his record in a 2-1 overtime win for Pittsburgh over the Rangers. Brian Leetch scored the goal for the Rangers.
After the game was over, Gretzky circled the ice one last time and waved a final farewell to the fans at Madison Square Garden. Both teams lined up for a handshake, something that is only traditionally done after a playoff series.
It was a fitting farewell for hockey's biggest star.