It’s somewhat fitting that the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets allowed us to harken back to the high-scoring days of the freewheeling 1980s hockey when they combined for 15 goals one week ago today.
The contest, which the Flames won 9-6 on the strength of five-consecutive second period goals and twin four-point performances from Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, was the highest scoring game of the season and the biggest goal-fest since the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals battled it out in a 15-goal affair of their own in mid-January of this year. (The Penguins won that game, 8-7, in overtime.)
Both 15-goal games, though, fell well short of matching the single-game record for combined goals. That mark instead belongs to a thriller between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Black Hawks on Dec. 11, 1985, a contest which is celebrating its 33rd anniversary today.
That game was a doozy. Through the early part of the second period, the Oilers led 6-0, with the Black Hawks not registering their first goal until Denis Savard scored 5:38 into the period. Edmonton would score again to put Chicago down 7-1, but the comeback train started to chug afterwards: goals from Curt Fraser, William Watson, Troy Murray, Jack O’Callahan and Keith Brown saw the Black Hawks pull within two of the Oilers with four minutes left in the second. But any miracle comeback was snuffed out when Marty McSorley and Glenn Anderson restored a four-goal Edmonton lead by the time the second closed.
The Black Hawks and Oilers would trade goals throughout the final frame, but Chicago came up well short on the night — a six-goal hole will tend to do that — as Edmonton skated away with the 12-9 victory. To this day, the 21-goal scoreline hasn’t been matched, but that’s not to say some contests haven’t come close.
Beyond the 21-goal outing, here are the 10 (well, it’s actually 11, due to an eight-way tie for fifth place) highest scoring games in the post-expansion era:
Toronto Maple Leafs (10) vs. Chicago Black Hawks (8) — Feb. 20, 1977
For more than four years, this would remain the highest-scoring game of the post-expansion era, and a contest that has, in the years since, set the bar for two teams piling up the offense. Oddly enough, though, it actually took some time for things to get rolling.
The first goal of the contest, a Stan Mikita tally, wasn’t scored until nearly the eight-minute mark of the first period, and when the first frame came to a close, only five goals were on the board. That wasn’t all that irregular then, and it’s not all too rare now. Matter of fact, the second period really didn’t give much indication that this game would be as high-scoring as it was, as the second ended with Toronto holding a 5-4 edge.
In the third, though, things took off: four goals in the first three minutes and nine in all, five for the visiting Maple Leafs and only four — including two late goals to bring Chicago within one with five minutes remaining — for the Black Hawks.
Quebec Nordiques (11) vs. Washington Capitals (7) — Feb. 22, 1981
There were some big scores on Feb. 22, 1981. The Rangers and Whalers, as well as the Maple Leafs and Blackhawks, battled in 11-goal games, while the Penguins smoked the Rockies in a 13-goal affair. But all those outings paled in comparison to the eye-popping 18-goal contest that saw the Nordiques clean the ice with the Capitals.
However, the without-a-doubt highlight of the contest was Peter Stastny’s brilliant eight-point performance. After opening the scoring six minutes into the first, Stastny went on to register primary assists on all three of brother Anton’s goals, with a fourth helper coming on Pierre Lacroix’s power play goal in the second. Stastny also added another three goals to his total — two in the second and one last tally with five seconds left to put the icing on Quebec’s 11-goal outing.
Buffalo Sabres (14) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (4) — March 19, 1981
There are few games in NHL history that have been as lopsided and as high-scoring as this contest between the Sabres and Maple Leafs. Making this game all the more unbelievable, though, is that the two sides went to the dressing room after the first period with one goal between them — John Van Boxmeer’s goal had put Buffalo ahead 1-0.
In the second, though, the game came apart at the seams. Over the next 20 minutes, the Sabres scored nine goals (!) and Toronto feebly attempted to keep pace with three of their own. The Maple Leafs then opened the scoring in the third only for the Sabres to pour it on with another quartet of goals to skate away with a massive 14-4 victory.
Toronto Maple Leafs (10) vs. Chicago Black Hawks (8) — Oct. 15, 1983
The Black Hawks’ 10-8 defeat years earlier wasn’t a memory all that distant when Chicago skated out against the Maple Leafs in October 1983. The two teams had battled on numerous occasions since, of course, but that kind of high-scoring defeat leaves some scars. It doesn’t help at all, either, that the two games followed a similar course, particularly in the third period.
After falling behind early and heading into the second intermission trailing 8-6, the Black Hawks pulled it together defensively and appeared ready to rally back. Five minutes into the third, after falling behind 9-6, Troy Murray scored to bring Chicago within two, followed roughly seven minutes later by a Jack O’Callahan goal that put the Black Hawks within one. Chicago, powered by Denis Savard, couldn’t find the equalizer, though, and Greg Terrion put the game to bed with an unassisted tally with three seconds remaining.
Minnesota North Stars (10) vs. St. Louis Blues (8) — Jan. 27, 1984
This might just be the most back-and-forth affair on the list of highest-scoring games in the post-expansion era. And while the Blues suffered defeat, one would have likely been hard-pressed to find many who weren’t entertained by the outing.
The fun really began in the second. With St. Louis leading 2-1, Neal Broten scored six minutes into the period to draw Minnesota level. Then, the Blues and North Stars traded goals before St. Louis briefly pulled ahead entering the third, where Tom McCarthy and Brian Bellows gave Minnesota its first lead since scoring the opening goal with markers 23 seconds apart. The 6-5 North Stars lead would only last two minutes, as the Blues would again even the score before taking a brief 7-6 lead that was nullified by a Dino Ciccarelli goal. Then came another two consecutive North Stars goals — these ones 21 seconds apart — and a 9-7 lead that Minnesota wouldn’t relinquish.
All told, the game was tied six times before the North Stars pulled away for good.
Detroit Red Wings (10) vs. Winnipeg Jets (8) — Nov. 25, 1987
Arguably the most entertaining game on the list, and one that likely has a fisherman’s tale-type attendance record. You know, the type of game where somehow there were 30,000 people inside a 15,000 seat arena? That’s this one.
Through two frames, the contest was relatively tame — the Jets held a 5-3 lead over the Red Wings — but the third period was absolute, unbridled mayhem. Less than a minute into the third, Winnipeg scored to take a 6-3 lead, but Detroit proceeded to score six consecutive goals in a seven and a half minute span to take a 9-6 lead. The Jets fired back with a pair on the power play to draw within one with 4:20 remaining, but Mel Bridgman iced the game with his second marker of the game and the period with 80 seconds remaining.
Calgary Flames (10) vs. Quebec Nordiques (8) — Feb. 23, 1991
Rare is the game where the losing keeper could actually be commended for only allowing 10 goals against, but Jacques Cloutier had one of the busiest nights of his life in late-February 1991. The Nordiques goaltender was tested 59 times and was burned by the red light behind him on 10 occasions, but he still managed to finish the game with an .831 save percentage. That’s nearly 200 points better than the .636 SP posted by Flames counterpart Mike Vernon, who allowed eight goals on just 22 shots.
The stars of the game reads like a who’s-who of the era. Theo Fleury, Doug Gilmour and Al MacInnis combined for five goals and 13 points for Calgary, while Quebec fell despite three-point nights from Joe Sakic and Mats Sundin.
San Jose Sharks (10) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (8) — Jan. 13, 1996
The Sharks didn’t win often in 1996. In fact, only one team in the entire NHL, the Senators, had a more disappointing campaign than San Jose, who finished with a mere 20 wins and 47 points on the season. But one of those victories was an absolute stunner against a surefire Stanley Cup contender, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Through the first period, the Penguins held a 3-2 edge, and Pittsburgh skated away after 40 minutes with a 6-5 lead. But the Sharks found an all-too-rare spark in the third, scoring early and often — with goals from Ray Sheppard, Jay More, Chris Tancill and Ray Whitney — leading the way to a remarkable 10-8 victory over the eventual Eastern Conference finalists.
Vancouver Canucks (10) vs. Minnesota North Stars (9) — Oct. 7, 1983
This was the second game of the season for Minnesota, the third for Vancouver and a night fans in the building wouldn’t soon forget. The lead changes happened early and often and the first period set the tone for the game, as the North Stars took a 4-3 lead to the dressing room after 20 minutes. After Minnesota pulled ahead 6-3 in the second, however, the Canucks stormed back to tie it after 40 minutes on the strength of two Tony Tanti goals and a late marker by Darcy Rota. And that set the stage for a flurry of action in the third.
Just 96 seconds into the final frame, Tom McCarthy scored to put the North Stars back ahead. Jere Gillis drew Vancouver level. Thomas Grandin gave the Canucks the lead. And Jiri Bubla extended Vancouver’s lead to 9-7 with half the period remaining. Minnesota managed to tie the game tanks to tally for Jordy Douglas and Willi Plett, and then the game seemed to settle in until Patrik Sundstrom delivered the dagger — a tally with 4:56 left that put the Canucks ahead 10-9 and stood as the game winner.
Edmonton Oilers (12) vs. Minnesota North Stars (8) — Jan. 4, 1984
On the rare occasion that a player registers six points in an evening in today’s game, it captures the attention of everyone around the NHL. After Mark Messier’s six-point game against the North Stars, though, he had to deal with being overshadowed by Wayne Gretzky’s eight-point performance.
In yet another outing that encapsulates how talented the Oilers were during the 1980s, who had a video-game roster that sent several players to the Hall of Fame, Edmonton scored early and often in the kind of last-shot wins game that fans love and coaches despise. By the time the first frame was over, Gretzky had two goals and four points to as part of the Oilers’ 5-2 lead, adding another two goals and four points in the second to put Edmonton out in front 10-6 with 20 minutes to play.
Minnesota made a game of it, if you can call it that, by scoring twice early in the third, but Paul Coffey and Randy Gregg put a quick end to any comeback talk by scoring to put Edmonton ahead 12-8, a score that would hold in one of only three 20-goal games in post-expansion history.
Toronto Maple Leafs (11) vs. Edmonton Oilers (9) — Jan. 8, 1986
There are plenty examples of the 1980s Oilers having the kind of firepower that could boggle the mind, but this instance — a game which Edmonton lost — is the perfect example of how very hard it was to bury Gretzky and Co. during their heyday.
In the first period, Toronto leapt out to a 5-1 lead on the strength of tallies from Russ Courtnall, Miroslav Frycer, Steve Thomas and Brad Smith. Gretzky had the lone goal for Edmonton. In today’s game, a 5-1 first-period lead would be seemingly insurmountable, but that’s now how the next 40 minutes shook out for the Oilers and Maple Leafs.
By the time the second frame was over, Edmonton had clawed back within one, even briefly tying the game 6-6 when Paul Coffey scored late in the second, but Wendel Clark restored the Toronto lead just 33 seconds later. But the Oilers pulled back ahead within 80 seconds of puck drop in the third, only for Frycer to complete a hat trick early in the third before scoring his fourth — the game-winning goal — midway through the period. Dan Hodgson put the final nail in the coffin as Toronto hung on (after having to come back) for the 11-9 victory.