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Ranking the best single-game performances by defensemen

Ian Turnbull’s five-goal night is an NHL record for defensemen and it’s arguably the best offensive night a blueliner has had in league history. On the 40th anniversary of the feat, take a look at the 10 best modern day performances by blueliners.

Darryl Sittler’s 10-point night is one of hockey’s greatest feats. The mark, which will be 41 years old in less than a week, is one of those that isn’t exactly unmatchable, but would take the perfect combination of superhuman skill and otherworldly luck in order for anyone to surpass. In the post-lockout world, only two players have come even remotely close, with Sam Gagner’s eight-point night as his generation’s greatest single-game scoring feat and Daniel Alfredsson only narrowly behind with a seven-point game of his own.

Often forgotten, however, is that the very next season another Maple Leaf, defenseman Ian Turnbull, had a comparable night when it comes to single-game feats. On Feb. 2, 1977 — 40 years ago today — Turnbull set an NHL record when he became the first defenseman in league history to score five goals in a game. The mark came on across the second and third periods in Toronto’s 9-1 thrashing of the Detroit Red Wings, and no defenseman has matched the mark since.

Turnbull’s record has stood ever since, and, remarkably, no defenseman has really flirted with Turnbull’s outstanding feat in recent memory. Matter of fact, in the past 20 seasons, there hasn’t been a single defenseman to score four goals in a game. But while no one has been able to compete with Turnbull’s record, there are several blueliners who’ve had themselves outstanding single-game offensive performances. Here are the 10 best of the post-lockout era:

10. Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit Red Wings — Dec. 15, 2010

A list of best single-game performances since the lockout that included great defensive play would be almost entirely filled by Lidstrom. He won four Norris Trophies in the years following the lost season, including three straight starting in 2005-06. Incredibly, though, it took until his penultimate season in the league to register his first career hat trick.

Lidstrom scored early, potting his first four minutes into the game against the St. Louis Blues, and completed the three-goal night late. His final goal was an empty netter with 30 seconds left. Maybe that’s not how he pictured scoring his first hat trick, but the hats rained down nevertheless. The hat trick was made all the more incredible given Lidstrom was 40 at the time.

9. Ryan Suter, Minnesota Wild — Jan. 4, 2014

Suter, like Lidstrom, is one of those outstanding defensemen who does everything that’s asked of him and more, and like the Swedish legend, Suter has only one three-goal night to his name. One thing that makes Suter’s hat trick stand above Lidstrom’s, though, is that all three goals came with him blowing pucks by Braden Holtby. The real topper, however, is that it felt like Suter never left the ice. He took 32 shifts on the night and skated more than 31 minutes in the contest. 

Two of Suter’s goals came on the power play and the other was the insurance goal in what would be a 5-3 victory for the Wild over the Washington Capitals.

8. Dion Phaneuf, Calgary Flames — Dec. 13, 2007Our first goalless entry on the list comes from a young Phaneuf on a night like no other he had had before or since. It was Phaneuf’s third season in the league, and everything seemed to click in the December outing against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

During a furious start to the game, Phaneuf registered the primary assist on the Flames’ second goal midway through the first, added a second assist two minutes later and had a third 12 minutes into the second. Phaneuf helped Calgary pull away in the third when he picked up the lone helper on the first goal of a Jarome Iginla hat trick, and Phaneuf capped his five-point night with the secondary assist on Iginla’s third of the game.

7. Joe Corvo, Ottawa Senators — Oct. 26, 2006

There are those magic nights where a player seems to be everywhere on the ice, and an earl season contest between the Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs had that feel to it for Corvo. The thing is he didn’t really start having a huge night until the midpoint of the second period.

Corvo had assisted on a late-first period goal by Mike Fisher, and it took almost a full frame for him to register point No. 2, which was a goal of his own. Over the final three and a half minutes of the second, Corvo picked up two secondary helpers, though, pushing the Ottawa lead to four goals. Early in the second, Corvo capped his night with a primary assist on a Jason Spezza tally for point No. 5. Corvo finished with eight shots on goal, too.

6. Roman Josi, Nashville Predators — Feb. 25, 2013

Josi can get praised after every single game this season, and it somehow still feels as though the Predators defender is underrated. He’s really come into his own over the past few seasons, but the start of his ascent was in the 2012-13 season.

During an early season meeting with Dallas shortly after the lockout had ended, Josi put on display the offensive acumen that has made him a standout ever since. He started with the game-tying goal three minutes into the second period, followed it up with two secondary helpers to get Nashville back even once again, and then he delivered the overtime-winning dagger to the Stars 25 seconds into overtime. It’s the only four-point night Josi has had in his career.

5. Mathieu Schneider, Detroit Red Wings — Nov. 26, 2005

He might not be regarded as one of the absolute best defenders of his era, but Schneider was a consistent scorer who always got the job done. His late-career resurgence with the Red Wings was something to behold, too, but no game was better than his outing against the San Jose Sharks.

At 36, Schneider had one of the games of his life. He took 31 shifts, skated nearly 26 minutes, and scored not once, not twice, but three times, while also picking up a primary assist along the way. The incredibly game between the Red Wings and Sharks ended with a 7-6 final, with Schneider’s contributions helping Detroit come out on top.

4. Tomas Kaberle, Toronto Maple Leafs — Oct. 28, 2006

Kaberle is one of the few defensemen to notch five points in a single game post-lockout, but it’s one of his four four-point games that stand out most. Days after Kaberle watched Corvo dazzle against the Maple Leafs, he pulled off an outstanding game of his own against the Canadiens.

His night started early, with the primary assist on a power play goal by Alexei Ponikarovsky, but it only went up from there. Three minutes after helping open the scoring, Kaberle found the net himself and before the period was up, he had scored his second goal of the outing. Then, with Montreal threatening to knot up the game, Kaberle put it out of reach with his hat trick tally midway through the second. Kaberle’s third goal stood as the game winner.

3. Mattias Norstrom, Los Angeles Kings — Jan. 19, 2006

Norstrom isn’t a household name, nor is he what one would consider an offensive stud. Throughout his 903-game career, he only managed 18 goals and 165 points. And on one fateful evening, he found the score sheet over and over to the point that one game accounted for three percent of his career point total.

In an old-fashioned, 8-6 shootout between the Kings and Thrashers, Norstrom notched four assists, including three primary assists, in his 26 minutes of play. That alone is impressive enough, but it’s the shorthanded goal that makes Norstrom’s night that much better. The five-point night was part of the most explosive season of Norstrom’s career — a four-goal, 27-point year.

2. Alexandre Picard, Philadelphia Flyers — Feb. 1, 2007

Picard played 253 games in the NHL, suiting up for the Flyers, Senators, Canadiens, Lightning, Penguins and Hurricanes. He’s a journeyman, and one that has a great story to tell about the night he caught fire. Wednesday marked 10 years ago to the day that Picard had a five-assist night and put four shots on goal in a game in which he skated nearly 33 minutes.

Picard had the primary assists on a goal by Ben Eager and two from Mike Knuble, and picked up secondary helpers on goals by Peter Forsberg and Dmitry Afanasenkov. However, there’s no end-of-game success story here. The only player on this list to have a massive offensive night and not watch his team escape with the victory is Picard, but that’s about the best indication of how things went for the Flyers in 2006-07.

Norstrom’s big night accounted for more than three percent of his career points, but that doesn’t touch Picard, who managed a whopping seven percent of his career point total on a single night.

1. Sergei Gonchar, Pittsburgh Penguins — Dec. 13, 2006

Gonchar’s career spanned 20 seasons, beginning in 1994-95 and continuing through to 2014-15. Over those two decades, Gonchar was one of the most effective offensive defensemen in the league. In fact, here’s a list of blueliners who scored more points during that 20-year span: Nicklas Lidstrom. That’s it. Lidstrom is the only one. So it’s no surprise to see Gonchar, who scored 386 points in the post-lockout NHL, taking the top spot on this list.

Gonchar’s best night, and his biggest single-game performance, came during arguably the best years of his career, which came as a member of the Penguins. And, of course, who better to have a big night against than the Philadelphia Flyers?

Like most of the defenders on this list, Gonchar’s night started slow. He first found the score sheet with a power play goal midway through the first period. Gonchar took over in the second period, though. First came an assist on Ryan Malone’s power play goal, followed by Gonchar potting his second of the night. Then, before the 10-minute mark, Gonchar picked up his second helper of the game on a Mark Recchi goal. Before the game was through — a contest which Pittsburgh won 8-4 — Gonchar had added another assist to his total.

Gonchar finished the game with two goals and three assists, two of which were primaries. His second goal stood as the game-winner and despite the fact the Penguins ran away with the game, Gonchar led all skates with 27 minutes of ice time. Not a bad night.

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