The 50 Greatest Moments in NHL History

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IOctober 3, 2012

The 50 Greatest Moments in NHL History

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    There have been so many magical moments in the NHL since the league was founded in 1917.

    Some of these memories were clearly important events as they were happening, whether it's Wayne Gretzky passing Gordie Howe for the most goals scored or a team winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in several decades.

    Other events didn't seem like a big deal at the time, but over time, we have come to realize how they changed the game in some important way.

    Keep in mind when putting together this list, I tried to be true to the NHL, not just any particular team. In addition, international events like the 1972 Summit Series, the 1987 Canada Cup or the 1980 or 2010 Olympics, which were not NHL events, are not included here.

    Here is a look at the 50 greatest moments in NHL history. Feel free to comment on any I've missed or events you feel belong higher (or lower) on the list, but please be respectful and back up your assertion with the reasons why.

    While the lockout continues, I hope these memories remind us of why we love the game of hockey.

50. Pat LaFontaine Wins the Easter Epic

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    The longest seventh and deciding game in NHL playoff history was the "Easter Epic" played between the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals on April 18, 1987 at the Cap Centre in Landover, Maryland.

    After regulation time, the teams were even at 2-2. Then, goalies Kelly Hrudey and Bob Mason dueled into a fourth overtime before Pat LaFontaine's goal ended the game after 68:47 of overtime.

    Kelly Hrudey made an incredible 73 saves in the game, which still stands as an NHL playoff record.

    The game ended at 1:58 AM ET on Easter morning, roughly six hours and 18 minutes after it began. It remains one of the most exhausting and entertaining playoff games in NHL history.

49. Canada's First Televised Hockey Game

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    Today, with satellite and cable TV and the NHL Center Ice package, people take it for granted that they can watch their favorite team play on television. But that wasn't always the case.

    The first televised NHL game in Canada took place on October 11, 1952 at the Montreal Forum. The Canadiens downed the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 as Rene Lecavalier called the action.

    The first English-language broadcast with Foster Hewitt would come roughly three weeks later.

    The audience was small, but history was being made, as Canadians could finally watch their heroes play while sitting in their living rooms.

48. Andy Brown the Last Goalie Not to Wear a Mask

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    While Jacques Plante is remembered as the first goalie to wear a mask in an NHL game, few people recall the last goalie to play without facial protection.

    On April 7, 1974, Pittsburgh's Andy Brown played without a mask in a 6-3 loss to the Atlanta Flames.

    Ironically, during his playing career, Brown wore a mask in practice because he didn't want to take "unnecessary risks," but refused to don one during actual games.

    Brown continued his pro hockey career with the WHA's Indianapolis Racers and played through the 1976-77 season without a mask, but no goalie ever appeared in an NHL game after that without something to protect their face.

    In fact, today, if a goalie's mask falls off, the whistle is blown immediately and play is stopped.

    For playing without a mask, Brown earned the nickname "Fearless."

47. Gordie Howe Returns to Detroit for the 1980 All-Star Game

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    Gordie Howe spent 25 seasons playing hockey in Detroit. He was largely considered the greatest hockey player of all-time and helped lead the Red Wings to four Stanley Cup titles.

    Howe retired after the 1970-71 season as the NHL's all-time leading scorer. Two years later, he signed with the WHA's Houston Aeros for the chance to play with his sons, Mark and Marty.

    After seven seasons in the WHA, Howe returned to the NHL after it absorbed four WHA clubs in 1979.

    In 1980, Howe represented the Hartford Whalers at the All-Star Game, which was to be played at the new Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.

    When Howe was announced during pre-game introductions, Motor City hockey fans welcomed him back with a long standing ovation. "Mr. Hockey" was home again, and the fans had one last chance to thank the man who had given them so much great hockey for so many years.

46. The First Winter Classic

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    While the NHL staged an outdoor game between the Montreal Canadiens and Edmonton Oilers in 2003, the first Winter Classic was played on January 1, 2008 at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo. The Pittsburgh Penguins edged the Buffalo Sabres, 2-1, in a shootout before more than 71,000 fans.

    The first Winter Classic featured the highest U.S. television ratings of any hockey game in more than 30 years and gave the NHL a high-profile recurring showcase in the United States that it had never enjoyed previously in that country.

    Since then, the game has become an annual event, with successful contests being staged in Chicago, Boston, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

    The 2013 Winter Classic is scheduled for Ann Arbor, Michigan, with the Red Wings scheduled to host the Maple Leafs if the lockout is over before then. It is expected to draw more than 100,000 fans.

45. Vladimir Konstantinov Holds the Cup

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    Defenseman Vladimir Konstantinov was a hard-hitting defenseman who helped the Detroit Red Wings win the Stanley Cup in 1997.

    1996-97 was a great season for Konstantinov. He finished as the runner-up to Brian Leetch in the voting for the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman.

    Just after winning the Stanley Cup, Konstantinov was injured in a limousine accident. He was in a coma for several weeks and ended up partially paralyzed and confined to a wheel chair.

    When the Wings repeated as champions in 1998, Konstantinov was wheeled onto the ice and handed the Stanley Cup by his teammates. The sight of Konstantinov holding the Cup and smiling while on the ice in his wheelchair was one of the most moving moments in NHL history.

44. Brett Hull's Cup-Winning Goal Stirs Controversy

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    Brett Hull's double-overtime goal that won the 1999 Stanley Cup for the Dallas Stars remains a point of controversy to this day.

    The NHL had a zero-tolerance policy for skaters being in the crease before the puck got there in 1998-99. Buffalo Sabres fans still feel that the winning score should have been disallowed because Hull's skate was in the crease before he put the puck past Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek.

    The goal did count, however, and delivered the Stars' first championship.

    Watch the goal again, and you be the judge. Should it have counted or not?

43. Blackhawks Win Cup on 'Phantom' Goal

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    It has been nearly 40 years since the Chicago Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup, but on June 9, 2010, an overtime goal by Patrick Kane that almost nobody saw gave Chicago a championship.

    The Blackhawks defeated the Flyers in six games, winning the Stanley Cup in Philadelphia.

    Because of the angle of the shot, most of the crowd did not see the puck go into the net, but only realized the game was over when they saw the Hawks celebrating on the ice. It was clear on the replay that the puck did indeed go in, and the Blackhawks were champions.

42. Billy Smith Becomes the First Goalie to Score a Goal

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    Many goalies had tried to score a goal, but when it finally happened on November 28, 1979, it was pretty much by accident.

    Billy Smith of the Islanders was credited with a goal in a game against the Colorado Rockies in Denver when Colorado's Rob Ramage accidentally cleared the puck into his own empty net after the Rockies had removed their goalie during a delayed penalty against New York. Smith was the last Islanders player to touch the puck and was given credit for the goal.

    While Philadelphia's Ron Hextall became the first goalie to deliberately shoot a puck into a goal, it was Hall of Famer Billy Smith who finally got netminders off the snide back in 1979.

41. The Kings Win the Miracle on Manchester

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    On April 10,1982, the Los Angeles Kings pulled off a remarkable comeback in Game 3 of their opening-round playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers.

    The series was even at 1-1, but Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers broke out to a 5-0 lead after 40 minutes. The Kings managed to score five times in the third period to even the score with the game-tying goal by rookie forward Steve Bozek with just five seconds left in regulation time.

    The Kings managed to complete the comeback 2:35 into overtime on a goal by Daryl Evans.

    Los Angeles led the series 2-1 and went on to upset the Oilers in five games. While Los Angeles didn't win a Stanley Cup until 2012, the "Miracle on Manchester" was one of the franchise's greatest and most memorable moments.

40. Jagr Dazzles All 5 Blackhawks

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    Penguins star Jaromir Jagr scored one of the most impressive goals in NHL history during the 1992 Stanley Cup Final.

    Jagr gained possession of the puck just inside the Chicago blueline and deked past all five Blackhawks players en route to the goal. After he skated across the slot to the right circle, Jagr lifted a backhand past goalie Eddie Belfour.

    The Penguins won the game and swept Chicago in four straight games to win their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship.

39. The NHL Absorbs 4 WHA Teams 1979

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    After a seven-year war between the NHL and the upstart WHA, the two leagues finally called a truce before the start of the 1979-80 season.

    During most of the 1970s, the WHA and NHL competed for talent, fans and attention. Stars like Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe, Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg and Gerry Cheevers all spent time in the WHA.

    As part of the final agreement between the two leagues, the WHA agreed to cease operations and the NHL agreed to absorb four WHA teams into the established league: the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques and New England Whalers (who were re-named the Hartford Whalers).

    The new clubs were only able to protect a handful of skaters and selected the rest of their players from an expansion draft.

    Today, three of the four former WHA teams have relocated, with only Edmonton remaining in its original WHA location.  The Whalers moved to Carolina and became the Hurricanes, the Nordiques are now the Colorado Avalanche and the original Jets are now the Phoenix Coyotes.

    Three of the former WHA franchises have won at least one Stanley Cup title.

38. Teemu Selanne Sets the Rookie Record with 76 Goals

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    Winnipeg Jets rookie Teemu Selanne burst on the NHL scene with a record-setting 76 goal season during his rookie year in 1992-93.

    "The Finnish Flash" broke the rookie record of 53 set by Mike Bossy of the Islanders 15 years earlier.

    Selanne celebrated the record-breaking goal by using his stick to imitate a machine gun.

    He won the Calder Trophy that year and has scored a total of 663 goals and 1,406 points in 1,341 career NHL games through the end of the 2011-12 season.

37. Super Mario Freezes the North Stars

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    Mario Lemieux scored an beautiful goal during Game 2 of the 1990-91 Stanley Cup Final against the Minnesota North Stars at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.

    The Penguins already trailed in the series 1-0 and could not afford to head back to Minnesota trailing in the series 2-0.

    Lemieux picked up the puck in his own zone and skated down the center of the ice with a burst of speed. He did not have any teammates with him as he sped quickly into the North Stars' zone. The Pittsburgh captain then faked out both Minnesota defensemen, skated in between them and faked out goalie Jon Casey before beating him with a backhander.

    Pittsburgh went on to win the game 4-1 and won the series 4-2. It was the first Stanley Cup title in the history of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and their captain's impressive goal led the way.

36. Ray Bourque Finally Wins the Cup

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    Defenseman Ray Bourque enjoyed 20 Hall of Fame seasons with the Boston Bruins, but a Stanley Cup championship eluded him.

    He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in 2000 in an attempt to give Bourque a chance to win one championship before he retired.

    The entire city of Boston and many hockey fans throughout North America were pulling for Bourque and the Avs, and they delivered, winning the Stanley Cup in a hard fought seven-game series against the New Jersey Devils.

    The sight of Bourque finally lifting the Stanley Cup over his head after more than 20 years of NHL toils was a memorable and moving moment in NHL history. It was also the last NHL game Bourque ever played.

35. Lester Patrick Dons the Pads at Age 44

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    Things didn't look too good for the New York Rangers in Game 2 of their Stanley Cup Final series against the Montreal Maroons in 1928. The Rangers trailed in the series 1-0, and their goalie, Lorne Chabot, was injured and unable to stay in the game.

    Teams didn't carry backup goalies in those days, and the Maroons refused the Rangers' permission to use Ottawa Senators goalie Alex Connell, who was in attendance.

    The Rangers were forced to find another goalie on the spot, so they turned to Coach Lester Patrick, who had long since retired as a player and was not a goalie by trade.

    At 44 years, three months and nine days old, Patrick was the oldest player ever to play goal in a Stanley Cup Final (a record that still stands).

    The Rangers checked hard and played stout defense, and Patrick allowed only one goal the rest of the way. The Rangers won the game 2-1 in overtime and went on to win their first Stanley Cup championship in five games.

34. Gretzky's Farewell

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    On April 18, 1999, Wayne Gretzky played his final NHL game at New York's Madison Square Garden.

    The game became a celebration of all things Gretzky, as fans had a final chance to see "The Great One" in action. Gretzky didn't disappoint, picking up an assist on the lone Rangers goal in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Defenseman Brian Leetch had the honor of scoring the goal on Gretzky's last assist.

    Before the game, the words to both the Canadian and American national anthems were changed to include Gretzky's name in them while teammates and opponents alike gathered around hockey's all-time leading scorer to shake his hand and say farewell.

    Gretzky finished his NHL career with 894 goals and 2,857 points in 1,487 games.

33. Yzerman Sinks the Blues

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    Steve Yzerman had an illustrious career with the Detroit Red Wings, but his most famous goal came in Game 7 of the 1996 Western Conference Semifinal against the St. Louis Blues.

    The game was in double overtime when Yzerman recovered the puck off the stick of St. Louis' Wayne Gretzky and skated down ice. The Detroit captain let a blazing slap shot go from just inside the St. Louis blueline that beat Jon Casey and gave the Wings a 1-0 win.

    Although the Avalanche eliminated the Red Wings in the Western Conference final, Detroit came back to win its first Stanley Cup since 1955 just one year later.

32. Messier's Gurantee

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    The New York Rangers had won the President's Trophy in 1993-94 for the second time in three years, but the franchise had not won a championship in 54 seasons, and anything less would have been a major disappointment for the franchise and their long-suffering fans.

    After easily dispatching of the Islanders and Capitals in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Rangers faced division rival New Jersey in the Eastern Conference Final. It was a tightly-contested series, but the Devils held a 3-2 lead entering Game 6 in New Jersey.

    Rangers captain Mark Messier pulled his best Joe Namath imitation and guaranteed a Rangers victory in Game 6. He backed up his boast, scoring three goals and assisting on another in a come-from-behind 4-2 Rangers' victory.

    The Rangers then won Game 7 at Madison Square Garden on Stephane Matteau's double-overtime goal to advance to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in 15 years.

    Once there, Messier led the Rangers to the Stanley Cup, edging out the Vancouver Canucks in seven games.

31. Willie O'Ree Becomes the First African-American in the NHL

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    On January 18, 1958, Willie O'Ree of the Boston Bruins became the first African-American player to appear in an NHL game.

    O'Ree had only a brief stint in the NHL, playing just 45 games in two seasons before returning to the minor leagues for a lengthy and productive career. His NHL totals are four goals and 14 points.

    After his retirement from pro hockey, O'Ree became an active promoter of diversity in hockey, working for the NHL in an advisory and public relations capacity.

    In 2000, O'Ree received the Lester Patrick Award for service to the sport of hockey in the United States. He was later bestowed with the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award that can be bestowed upon a Canadian citizen, for his service to the game of hockey and his country.

30. Bill Mosienko Scores the Fastest Three Goals in NHL History

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    Chicago's Bill Mosienko set an NHL record for the three fastest goals scored by one player on March 23, 1952, when he scored three goals in just 21 seconds in a game against the New York Rangers at New York's Madison Square Garden. Gus Bodnar assisted on all three goals for Chicago.

    Lorne Anderson was the Rangers goalie that night, which was the Blackhawks' season finale. They beat the Rangers 7-6 before a sparse crowd of just 3,254.

    Amazingly enough, Mosienko almost had a fourth goal just 45 seconds later when he clanked a shot off the post.

    It has been 60 years since Mosienko's magic night, and his record for the three fastest goals still stands today.

29. Phil Esposito Sets Single-Season Goal Mark

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    Phil Esposito went from being a very good first-line center in Chicago to becoming the NHL's leading goal scorer after being traded to the Boston Bruins.

    In 1970-71, Esposito passed Bobby Hull's record of 58. The record-breaking goal came on March 11, 1971 off Kings goalie Denis DeJordy during a 7-2 win over Los Angeles.

    Esposito finished the season with 76 goals and 152 points, both new records.

    Espo's new goal mark stood for nearly 11 years before it was surpassed by Wayne Gretzky.

28. Too Many Men Ends Cherry's Coaching Career in Boston

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    Don Cherry's Boston Bruins reached the Stanley Cup Final in both 1977 and 1978, only to fall to the mighty Montreal Canadiens, who won their second and third consecutive championships.

    In 1979, the Bruins met the Canadiens in the semifinals, and the series went a full seven games. Boston was clinging to a one-goal lead late in the third period when the Bruins were assessed a bench minor for having too many men on the ice.

    Guy Lafleur scored the tying goal during the ensuing power play, and Montreal won the game in overtime on a tally by Yvon Lambert.

    Cherry was fired by the Bruins that summer. After one year of coaching the Colorado Rockies, "Grapes" began a very successful broadcasting career with CBC.

    Meanwhile, Montreal advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, where it defeated the New York Rangers in five games to win its fourth straight title.

27. Darryl Sittler's 10-Point Night

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    February 7, 1976 was a magic night for Toronto Maple Leafs center Darryl Sittler.

    In a game against the Boston Bruins, Sittler set an NHL record by recording 10 points in a single game. He accomplished the feat by scoring six goals and setting up four others. Toronto won the game 11-4.

    Boston rookie Dave Reece was in goal for the entire game and would never play in the NHL after this game.

    For Sittler, however, it was all part of a magic year that saw him set this record, become the first Leafs player to score 100 points in a season and score the overtime winner for Canada in the 1976 Canada Cup Final.

26. NHL Adds the Shootout

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    After the owners locked out the players and canceled the entire 2004-05 season, the NHL felt it needed to make changes to the game to improve the experience for players and fans.

    One innovation that was introduced was the shootout. If a game was still tied after a five-minute overtime, each team would have three chances to score on penalty shots against the opposing goalie, and whichever team scored the most goals would earn two points for their team. The club that lost the shootout received one point.

    As a result of the shootout, NHL games could no longer end in ties. The shootout is not used in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where overtime still decides the winner of a game.

    Despite criticisms that the shootout is a "gimmick," it has been popular with most fans and added an element of excitement to the game.

25. Rookie Ken Dryden Leads Habs to 1971 Cup Win

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    Ken Dryden had appeared in all of six NHL games when the 1970-71 NHL playoffs got underway, but the Cornell grad played well and was named Montreal's starting goaltender for the playoffs over veteran Rogie Vachon.

    All Dryden did was lead the Canadiens to one of the greatest upsets in NHL history.

    First, Montreal upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins in seven games. The Bruins were record-setters that year, scoring more than 100 goals more than the next highest team and finishing 12 games higher in the standings than the next best team. They also had the top four point scorers in the NHL in Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Ken Hodge.

    Dryden then led the Habs past the Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup. He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and then won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie the following season.

    It was the beginning of a Hall of Fame career for Dryden, who also led the Canadiens to Stanley Cups in 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1979 before retiring from hockey.

24. Flyers Become First Expansion Team to Win the Cup

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    When the league expanded from six to 12 teams in 1967, the new expansion teams had to make due with leftover talent from the established club's rosters.

    While the St. Louis Blues represented the expansion teams in the Stanley Cup Final in 1968, 1969 and 1970, they failed to win a single game. In fact, no expansion team had ever defeated any of the Original Six clubs in the playoffs during the first six seasons after the league grew in 1967-68.

    By 1974, the Flyers were ready to change all that. They combined a physical, intimidating style of play with timely scoring and outstanding goaltending by Bernie Parent to finish with the league's second-best record.

    In the playoffs, they defeated the Rangers in seven games in the semifinal before beating Bobby Orr and the Bruins in six games to win the Stanley Cup.

    Philadelphia repeated its triumph in 1975 after defeating the Sabres in six games in the first ever Stanley Cup Final between two expansion teams.

23. Bob Baun Scores OT Winner on a Broken Ankle

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    Leafs defenseman Bob Baun was one of the more popular players on the team despite the fact that he scored only 37 goals in 964 career NHL games. He was a fan favorite for his all-out effort and the booming body checks he dished out to opponents.

    During Game 6 of the 1964 Stanley Cup Final, with Toronto trailing the series 3-2, Baun suffered a broken bone in his foot and was removed from the game on a stretcher.

    "I got hit in the foot by a shot by Gordie Howe, so they took me to the Olympia infirmary. The guys who looked at it didn't think I could hurt it any more than I already had, so they froze it and I went back to play the game," Baun recalled in an interview.

    "I knew it was broken; I didn't need any X-rays to tell me that. But I didn't want to miss the overtime. I told the trainer he had to do everything possible to get me out there. He gave me a shot of painkiller, which numbed the ankle, and taped it tight. Then I laced up my skate and went back to the bench."

    Baun played in the overtime and scored with game-winning goal off Detroit's Terry Sawchuk. The Leafs won the series two nights later, and Baun's goal became the stuff of legend.

22. Richard Wins Game 7 of the 1952 Semifinals

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    Perhaps the most famous goal of Rocket Richard's illustrious career took place in Game 7 of the 1952 Stanley Cup semifinal against the Boston Bruins.

    Richard suffered a concussion in the third period of the game and had blood dripping down his face from a cut suffered during the game. He returned to action and drove to the net to score what many described as the prettiest goal of his career, beating Bruins' goalie "Sugar" Jim Henry to lead Montreal past Boston.

    A famous photograph of Richard and Henry shaking hands (shown above) became the very image of the rough nature of the game of hockey and how hard the players worked and struggled at the game.

21. Bill Barilko's Last Goal Wins the Cup for the Leafs

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    The last goal of Bill Barilko's NHL career won the Stanley Cup for the Toronto Maple Leafs and later became the stuff of legend.

    Barilko beat Gerry McNeil in overtime of Game 5 of the 1951 Stanley Cup Final, giving Toronto a title.

    Later that summer, Barilko left on a small plane to go on a fishing trip with a friend. The plane went down and Barilko's body was missing.

    His remains were not discovered for 11 years, and the Maple Leafs did not win another Stanley Cup during that time.

    In 1962, the year Barilko's body was discovered, Toronto finally won another championship.

20. First All-Star Game Benefits Ace Bailey

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    On February 14, 1934, the best players in the NHL gathered to play an exhibition game at Maple Leaf Gardens to help raise money for former Leafs star Ace Bailey and his family.

    Bailey's career came to a premature end two months earlier when he was hit from behind by Boston's Eddie Shore and fractured his skull on the ice. Bailey nearly lost his life. He managed to recover, but doctors said he should never play hockey again.

    The benefit game between the Leafs and the All-Stars ended with a 7-3 Toronto victory and raised nearly $21,000 for the cause.

    Among the stars featured in the game were Aurel Joliat, Eddie Shore, Howie Morenz, Nels Stewart, Red Dutton, Ching Johnson and Lionel Chonacher.

    The highlight of the event was a handshake between Bailey and Shore, which was memorialized in a famous photograph.

19. Bobby Nystrom Gives the Isles Their First Stanley Cup Win

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    The New York Islanders started a dynasty on May 24, 1980, when Bobby Nystrom's overtime goal against Philadelphia's Pete Peeters clinched the franchise's first Stanley Cup title in just their seventh season of existence.

    GM Bill Torrey and Coach Al Arbour quickly built their team into serious contenders, and they reached the seventh game of the semifinal round in just their third season after having the worst record in NHL history in their inaugural year of 1972-73.

    While the Isles built their team around stars like Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy, they also had quality grinders and support players to fill out their roster. It was only fitting that Nystrom, who had been with the team since midway through their first season and was one of the most popular players on the team, scored the Cup-winning goal.

    The Isles went on to win four straight Stanley Cups and reach the final round the following season to become one of the NHL's all-time great dynasties.

18. Messier Delivers the Cup to Broadway

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    Rangers fans had waited 54 years for a championship since the magical season of 1940, but year after year, despite some very talented teams, the Broadway Blueshirts fell short of a Stanley Cup win.

    The organization came close many times, reaching the Final in 1950, 1972 and again in 1979. Management often brought in Hall of Fame players, often past their primes, in an attempt to bring a title to Madison Square Garden. Greats like Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Phil Esposito, Guy Lafleur and Marcel Dionne all had chances to bring a championship to the Rangers, but they all came up short.

    Mark Messier finally ended that. In 1991-92, he led the Rangers to their first President's Trophy in 50 years. Two years later, he finally delivered a championship.

    The Rangers led the Vancouver Canucks 3-1 in this series, and it seemed all but over until Vancouver won Games 5 and 6 to force a seventh and deciding contest back in New York.

    The Rangers finally broke the jinx and managed to win a title, holding on for a 3-2 win in Game 7 to once and for all end the derisive chants of "Nineteen-Forty" that Islanders' fans had serenaded them with for so long.

17. Mario Lemieux Returns After Cancer Treatment

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    Mario Lemieux was on his way to yet another record-breaking season in 1992-93. Many people felt he had already surpassed Wayne Gretzky as the best player in the game.

    But Lemieux was sidelined by Hodgkin's Disease during the season. The cancer not only threatened his season and his career, but his life as well.

    "Super Mario" manged to find a way to beat cancer, however, and made a triumphant return to the ice.

    The last day of Lemieux's radiation treatments took place on the morning of March 2, 1993, less than two months after his diagnosis. Later that night, Lemieux was in the lineup for the Penguins when they faced the Flyers at the Spectrum, and he scored a goal and added an assist.

    Philadelphia fans, who have a reputation of being among the toughest in sports on visiting players, gave the captain of their cross-state rivals a standing ovation when he returned to the ice.

    Despite missing so much time during radiation treatments, Lemieux finished the 1992-93 season with 69 goals and 160 points in just 60 games.

16. Toronto Wins the Last Stanley Cup of the Original Six Era

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    On May 2, 1967, the Toronto Maple Leafs officially closed out the Original Six Era by defeating the Montreal Canadiens 3-1 to win the Stanley Cup in six games.

    The following month, the league would hold an expansion draft and welcome six new teams to the fold.

    The Maple Leafs were a team full of veterans. In fact, 10 players who played at least one game for Toronto that season were at least 30 years old.

    Ironically, Toronto has not won the Stanley Cup since then.

15. Gretzky Is Traded to the Kings

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    On August 9, 1988, the unthinkable happened: The Edmonton Oilers traded the man who was arguably the greatest hockey player of all-time, Wayne Gretzky, just months after he helped lead the team to its fourth Stanley Cup win in five years.

    Oilers owner Peter Pocklington apparently needed to raise money because some of his non-hockey business interests were not doing well. As a result, he started shopping Gretzky around the league.

    "The Great One" was sent to Los Angeles along with Marty McSorley and Mike Krushelnyski in exchange for Martin Gelinas, Jimmy Carson, three first-round draft choices and $15 million in cash.

    Fan reaction in Edmonton was overwhelmingly against the trade, and Pocklington was even burned in effigy by angry fans outside the Northlands Coliseum. Most of Canada was shocked that Gretzky could be traded.

    Meanwhile, Gretzky's trade to Los Angeles helped build hockey in southern California and in non-traditional markets across the United States. Gretzky spent nearly eight full seasons with the Kings and helped lead them to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in franchise history in 1993.

14. Bobby Orr Delivers the Cup to Boston

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    Bobby Orr's Stanley Cup-winning goal in overtime of Game 4 of the 1970 Final round against the St. Louis Blues remains one of the most iconic moments in NHL history.

    It was immortalized by the famous photo of Orr "flying through the air" after Blues defenseman Noel Picard tripped him just after he put the puck in the net.

    The goal gave the Bruins their first Stanley Cup win in nearly 30 years and clearly confirmed that the highly-touted defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario was truly the best hockey player of his generation.

    Orr won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year, and would win another one two years later when he led Boston to another title.

    But no other image of Orr has been stuck in the memory of hockey fans than this moment of triumph.

13. The Richard Riot

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    The Richard Riot took place in Montreal back in 1955.

    On March 13, 1955, Canadiens star Maurice "Rocket" Richard hit a linesman, and NHL president Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the rest of the season and playoffs.

    Campbell then made the mistake of attending a game in Montreal just four days later, and that's when all heck broke loose. Fans protested and the riot spilled out of the Forum and onto the streets. Approximately 100 people were arrested and 37 people were injured as a result of the riot.

    Many of the fans in Montreal felt that Campbell had been too severe on Richard because of his French-Canadian heritage, and the Richard Riot itself was an indication of rising tensions in Quebec between French speakers and English speakers.

    Richard himself made an appeal to the fans to stop the violence and announced that he would accept Campbell's punishment. Order was restored.

    Because he missed the last three games of the regular season (two of which Montreal lost), Richard lost the league scoring title by one point to teammate Boom-Boom Geoffrion. The Habs also lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Red Wings in seven games.

12. Europeans Arrive in the NHL

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    In 1973, Borje Salming and Inge Hammarstrom of Sweden came to North America to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was the beginning of a steady influx of European-born and trained players who arrived in the NHL, and the league would never be the same again.

    Prior to the arrival of the two Swedes, roughly 95 percent of NHL players were born in Canada, with a sprinkling of Americans mixed in.

    Sure, players like Stan Mikita and Walt Tkaczuk were born in Europe, but they moved to Canada at a young age and came up through the Canadian junior hockey ranks.

    When Salming and Hammarstrom arrived in 1973, it was the first time Europeans came specifically to play in the NHL and went on to enjoy a lengthy and productive career (at least in the case of Salming).

    More talented Europeans like Ulf Nilsson and Anders Hedberg came to play in the WHA throughout the 1970s.

    In the 1980s, stars like Peter Stastny began a trickle of players defecting from Communist countries.

    After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, that trickle became a steady new source of talent for the National Hockey League, which today, is home to the most gifted hockey players from around the world regardless of where they were born.

11. Bobby Orr Becomes the First Defenseman to Lead the League in Scoring

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    In 1969-70, Bobby Orr accomplished something that no other defenseman in the history of the NHL had done before or since: He led the league in scoring.

    Orr scored 33 goals and 120 points to beat out teammate Phil Esposito by 21 points for the Art Ross Trophy. Orr also won the Norris Trophy as the league's best defenseman, the Hart Trophy as league MVP and was Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP after leading the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup title since 1941.

10. Gordie Howe Breaks Rocket Richard's Goal Scoring Record

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    Gordie Howe became the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer on November 10, 1963 during a 3-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Olympia in Detroit.

    It was career goal 545 for "Mr. Hockey," which pushed him past Maurice Richard on the NHL's all-time goal list. Howe remained the NHL's leading goal scorer until March 23, 1994, when Wayne Gretzky passed him.

9. Jacques Plante Becomes the First Goalie to Wear a Mask

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    It's hard to believe in this day and age that there was a time when NHL goalies didn't even wear masks. In fact, the first modern-era netminder to don a mask was Hall of Famer Jacques Plante on November 1, 1959.

    A hard shot by the Rangers' Andy Bathgate hit Plante in the face. The game was delayed while Plante received stitches, and he refused to return to the ice unless Canadiens coach Toe Blake let him use the mask he used during practice during this game.

    Blake had refused permission to wear the mask during actual games because he was concerned it would limit Plante's vision, but teams didn't carry backup goalies back then, so Plante refused to play without it.

    The Canadiens won the game, and Plante went on a winning streak while wearing the mask. Blake couldn't refuse Plante permission now, and a new era in NHL history had begun.

8. Bobby Hull Scores Goal No. 51

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    Since Rocket Richard scored 50 goals in 1944-45, no player had broken that total.

    Boom-Boom Geoffrion equaled the mark in 1960-61, although he played in 14 more games than Richard, and Blackhawks star Bobby Hull also reached 50 goals in 1961-62 in 70 games.

    But Hull became the first player to exceed 50 goals in a season on March 12, 1966, when he scored his 51st goal of the season against the New York Rangers. The Chicago Stadium crowd gave him a long standing ovation for the occasion.

    Hull finished the season with 54 goals, a mark that wouldn't be broken until after the league expanded from six teams to 12.

    He finished his career with 610 NHL goals and an additional 303 in the WHA.

7. 3-0 Playoff Comebacks

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    It's only happened three times in the history of the NHL, and each one of them was special. Teams that were trailing 3-0 in a playoff series came back to win four consecutive games.

    In 1942, the Maple Leafs became the first team to turn the trick, doing it in the Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. Toronto won the the final game at the Maple Leaf Gardens, 3-1, to win the Cup.

    In 1975, the New York Islanders trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins in the quarterfinal series 3-0 before winning four straight. Chico Resch shut the Pens out in the seventh and deciding game in Pittsburgh, which the Isles won 1-0 on a goal by Ed Westfall. The Isles then fell behind the Flyers 3-0 in the next round of the playoffs and forced a seventh game, only to lose at the Spectrum in Philadelphia after Kate Smith sang "God Bless America."

    Finally, in 2010, the Philadelphia Flyers fell behind the Boston Bruins 3-0 before winning four straight in their Eastern Conference Semifinal series. The seventh and deciding game was a 4-3 decision in Boston that completed Philadelphia's miracle comeback.

6. Glenn Hall Starts 502 Consecutive Games

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    Hall of Famer Glenn Hall put together a remarkable streak that will almost certainly never be broken: The goalie started 502 consecutive games.

    The streak lasted roughly eight years and included the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup-winning season in 1961.

    It finally came to an end on November 8, 1962, when Hall was held out of a game against the Boston Bruins due to a bad back.

    Amazingly enough, Hall did not wear a mask at all during the streak, as he did not begin to wear facial protection until later in his career.

    Even with modern 82-game schedules, a goalie would have to start every one of his team's games for more than six years to equal Hall's mark. With modern NHL travel schedules and the availability of backup goalies, the odds that Hall's streak will ever be equaled are extremely small.

5. The NHL Expands, 1967

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    When the Brooklyn Americans folded after the 1941-42 season, the NHL was left with six teams: the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks.

    The league stayed that way with the "Original Six" franchises from 1942-43 until the end of the 1966-67 season.

    The NHL finally added six new clubs in 1967: the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Minnesota North Stars, St. Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and California Seals.

    The era of the Original Six was over, and the NHL finally had a team west of Chicago and south of New York. A national television deal with CBS in the United States soon followed, and the league began to gain more fans across North America.

    Today, there are 30 NHL teams, 23 in the United States and seven in Canada.

4. the Rocket Scores 50 in 50

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    On the final day of the 1944-45 season, Maurice "The Rocket" Richard became the first player in NHL history to score 50 goals in a season.

    The goal came in a game against the Boston Bruins off goalie Harvey Bennett during a 4-2 Montreal win in Boston.

    The season back then was 50 games long, so Richard's feat of 50 goals in 50 games became the standard that goal scorers were forever judged by.

    By the time he retired, "The Rocket" was the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer.

    In 1999, the league introduced "The Rocket Richard Trophy," which was awarded to the player who scored the most goals during the previous season.

3. Gretzky Scores 50 in 39

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    "Rocket" Richard set a standard in 1945 by scoring 50 goals in 50 games. It was matched by Mike Bossy in 1980-81, but never surpassed until Wayne Gretzky obliterated the record in 1981-82, when he scored 50 goals in just 39 games.

    The final new record was set on December 30, 1981 in a game between the Oilers and the Philadelphia Flyers. Gretzky scored five goals in that game, including an empty-netter, to reach the vaunted 50-goal mark.

    When "The Great One" reached 50 goals, nobody else in the league had scored 30 yet. By the end of the 1981-82 season, Gretzky had scored an NHL-record 92 goals and 212 points. The 92-goal record still stands today, while the NHL's all-time scoring leader broke his own record by scoring 215 points in 1985-86.

    Nobody has come close to Gretzky's record since, and it remains the standard by which all goal scorers are measured.

2. Montreal Wins Its 5th Straight Stanley Cup

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    On April 14, 1960, the Montreal Canadiens accomplished something no other NHL team had done before or since: they won their fifth straight Stanley Cup.

    The Habs blanked the Toronto Maple Leafs, 4-0, at Maple Leaf Gardens to sweep the series in what ended up being the final game in the career of Maurice "The Rocket" Richard.

    The list of all-time greats on the 1960 Canadiens is impressive. In addition to "The Rocket," players like Jacques Plante, Doug Harvey, Tom Johnson, Henri Richard, Boom-Boom Geoffrion, Dickie Moore and Jean Beliveau contributed to the Habs' fifth straight Cup win.

    Montreal won four straight Stanley Cups from 1976-1979 and the New York Islanders won four from 1980-1983, but nobody has matched the sustained excellence of the 1956-1960 Canadiens.

1. Gretzky Passes Gordie, Scores No. 802

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    Wayne Gretzky became the NHL's all-time leading goal scorer, passing his boyhood idol, Gordie Howe, on March 23, 1994.

    It was the 802nd goal of "The Great One's" career and came during a  6-3 Kings loss to the Vancouver Canucks at the "Fabulous Forum" in Inglewood, California. Kirk McLean was the unlucky goalie.

    Nobody has come close to matching Gretzky since then.