by Rob Joyce
The NHL capped its 100th anniversary celebration last weekend with the NHL100 Classic, an outdoor game between the Canadiens and Senators. The league blew it out for their celebration, honoring the 100 greatest players earlier in the year, having the marquee setup at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto and reliving the history of the league in as many different ways as you can think.
The fans were able to give their input on certain things, like picking the top moment in league history. The winner was Mario Lemieux’s historic five-goal game in 1988, when he scored five different ways (even strength, power play, shorthanded, penalty shot and empty net). The votes are in, but were the fans right? Here’s our list of the five greatest moments in NHL history:
5) Darryl Sittler, 1976:
Consider that the likes of Gretzky, Lemieux, Howe, Richard, or anyone else in NHL history never scored nine points in a single game. That makes Sittler’s play on Feb. 7, 1976 even more impressive, as he had a 10-point night against the Bruins. The Hall of Famer scored six goals and added four assists in an 11-4 win. Those half-dozen goals are also tied for the most in the modern era, and he’s also the most recent person to have six in a game. No one in the league has even had a five-goal game since 2011 (Johan Franzen) and it’s only been done twice in the last 20 years.
4) Mark Messier & Stephane Matteau, 1994:
For hockey fans there are probably better moments than this, but Messier’s guarantee and Matteau’s goal transcended the sport and is known amongst even the most general sports fans. Down 3-2 in the 1994 Eastern Conference Final to the Devils, the Rangers’ captain guaranteed there would be a Game 7. He made good on his promise with a Game 6 hat trick. Fast forward to double-overtime of Game 7 and Stephane Matteau scored one of the game’s most iconic goals. “Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!” sent New York to the Cup Final, where they’d edge Vancouver in seven games for the Rangers’ first Stanley Cup in 54 years.
3) Wayne Gretzky, 1994:
On the NHL’s 64-moment bracket upon which fans could vote, Gretzky made the list an astounding seven times for his assorted accomplishments. The most memorable, though, came on March 23, 1994 when the Great One scored his 802nd goal, passing Gordie Howe for first all-time. He’s finish his career with 894 goals and a mind-boggling 1,963 assists. He has more assists than anyone else in NHL history has points.
2) Mario Lemieux, 1988:
Super Mario makes No. 2 on our list when he closed out calendar year 1988 in style. In an 8-6 win against the Devils on Dec. 31, Lemieux scored, in order: an even-strength goal, a shorthanded goal and a power play goal, all in the third period. In the second he converted a penalty shot, then added the empty netter late in the third. He’s the only player in league history to score five goals five different ways in a single game. To boot, in the three goals he didn’t score he tallied assists, for an eight-point night.
1) Bobby Orr, 1970:
The most iconic goal in NHL history, to win a Stanley Cup, takes the cake here. If you’re a hockey fan you’ve seen the video and the photo dozens of times: Bobby Orr scoring 40 seconds into overtime of Game 4 to win the Stanley Cup, and then flying through the air as he was tripped. The fact that it ended Boston’s 29-year championship drought was memorable enough. Factor in that it was by the best defenseman of all-time, with the image of him going airborne, arms raised in victory, and that’s the greatest moment in NHL history.