Evgeni Nabokov had himself quite the career. A ninth-round pick of the Sharks in 1994, the Russian netminder made his way to the NHL by the 1999 season after battling his way through the AHL, and by 2001-02 Nabokov had established himself as one of the top young goaltenders in the league with a Calder Trophy victory. Over the course of his career, he compiled 353 wins, played nearly 700 games, became a first-team all-star in 2007-08, a Vezina finalist that same season and was five times voted into the top five for the goaltender of the year award.
But maybe the most memorable single moment of Nabokov’s career came 15 years ago today, on March 10, 2002.
Nabokov wasn’t necessarily known for his ability to handle the puck, but in his sophomore season, the opportunity arose for the then-26-year-old netminder to accomplish what only six other goaltenders had to that point: score a goal. However, Nabokov’s opportunity was unique in that when the puck came back to him for his chance at an empty net, San Jose was on a power play. When his full-ice shot found the back of the net, he became the first goaltender in league history to net a power play tally.
So, while Nabokov may not have a Vezina to his name or find his way to the Hall of Fame, he does have one feat that will be his, and his alone, forever. He’s not the only goaltender to enter the history books with some offense, though. Here are five other goal-scoring firsts by goaltenders:
First goal: Billy Smith, New York Islanders — Nov. 28, 1979
The Islanders netminder was known as much for his ferocity on the ice as he was for his ability to stop the puck, but his mark on history goes beyond his Vezina win, Smythe victory, four Stanley Cups or enshrinement in the Hall of Fame. Like Nabokov, Smith accomplished a first that can be never taken away when he became the first goalie in league history to be credited with a goal.
Smith’s tally came in the third period on a delayed penalty call against the Colorado Rockies. With Rockies netminder Bill McKenzie exiting the net and Colorado controlling play in New York’s zone, the puck wound up on the stick of Rob Ramage. As he picked up the puck in the corner and sent it back to the blueline, it eluded the Rockies’ defense and skittered into the yawning cage. Smith was the last Islander to touch the puck, making a save seconds prior to the goal.
Smith nearly wasn’t the first, however. Los Angeles Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon was credited with a goal on Feb. 15, 1977, but the goal was later given to Vic Venasky after a scoring review. Also of note is that while Smith was the first to score, he wasn't the first to intentionally do so. That honor goes to…
First to shoot and score: Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers — Dec. 8, 1987
In his very first season in the league, Hextall made a name for himself when he won the Conn Smythe despite the Flyers losing in the Stanley Cup final to the Edmonton Oilers. Hextall won the Vezina that same season. He was back making headlines by the time his second season in the league rolled around. This time, it wasn’t so much for his goaltending feats as it was his ability to handle the puck.
It had been more than eight years since Smith scored the first goalie goal in league history, and at the time it wasn't something anyone would have expected a netminder to outright go for. After all, Smith’s had come as the result of a mistake. It was luck that worked in Smith’s favor.
On Hextall’s, that was far from the case.
After stopping a dump-in by the Boston Bruins, Hextall got upright in a hurry, took aim and unleashed a shot that floated over everyone and nearly touched down all the way in the Bruins’ zone. It was a no doubter after that, and the Flyers — and their fans — lost their minds post-goal. Seriously, though, watch Hextall’s form:
First playoff goal, first shorthanded goal: Ron Hextall, Philadelphia Flyers — April 11, 1989
Hextall’s second goal arguably stands out more than his first because he killed two birds with one stone.
During a playoff contest against the Washington Capitals, with the Flyers leading 7-5 and down a man, Hextall saw his chance to stretch the lead to three when he collected a puck behind his own net. He had barely made his turn around the net when he took aim and fired a seeing-eye shot from below his goal line that landed perfectly in the neutral zone before hitting the corner of the net.
Of note about Hextall’s goal is the commentary from Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick. It’s been said the great players can see the play start to develop before it even happens. Maybe the same can be said of great commentators. Listen to Emrick at the 28-second mark. Seconds before Hextall scores, he makes note of the time being right for a potential playoff goal:
First goal and shutout combination: Damian Rhodes, Ottawa Senators — Jan. 2, 1999
There were some lean years in Rhodes’ career and it didn’t quite end the way he pictured, with him cast off to the expansion Atlanta Thrashers before winding up out of the league by 2002-03. The one thing he can hang his hat on, though, is that no other goaltender can ever lay claim to being the first to net a goal and post a shutout in the same outing.
The goal itself was much like Smith’s, which is to say that Rhodes didn’t have all that much to do with the tally. With the Senators holding an early 1-0 edge, there was a delayed penalty which resulted in the New Jersey Devils attacking hard. An attempt on net by defenseman Lyle Odelein wound up being turned aside into the corner, where he spun and fired it back to the blueline. The puck founds its way past everyone and into the net that had been vacated by Martin Brodeur.
An interesting note about the goal is that for more than 14 years, this was the earliest in a game a goaltender had ever scored. The goal came 8:14 into the outing and the previous record for earliest goalie goal was held by Smith, whose goal came with 15:10 remaining in the third period. However, the mark fell when a similar play resulted in Martin Brodeur being credited with a goal 3:54 into a March 2013 game. That’s not the only mark Brodeur, the career leader in goalie goals, holds, though. He also scored the…
First game-winning goal: Martin Brodeur, New Jersey Devils — Feb. 15, 2000
Brodeur was known for his supreme puck handling skills, but that might cloud your memory of how the Devils legend got to three career goals. Only one of the three was actually an intentional goal, so it might be Hextall, not Brodeur, who’s the real sniper among netminders. The most ridiculous of the three goals Brodeur scored was his second, but it also happens to be the one that gets him on this list.
Much like the goals by Smith and Rhodes, Brodeur’s goal came on a delayed penalty. Midway through the third period with the Devils leading 2-1, New Jersey was on the verge of sending a man to the box, so Brian Boucher exited the Flyers’ net to give Philadelphia the extra attacker. With Boucher on the bench and the Flyers attempting to work up ice, the puck ended up on the stick of Daymond Langkow when his stick was hacked and the puck slid into the yawning cage.
It was credited to Brodeur, who was the last Devil to touch the puck, and the Flyers added another goal to make Brodeur’s the winner.
Take a look at all three of his goals below:
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.