Best individual NHL performances
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of a series of articles by Times News writer Rich Strack. After previously writing about the “Greatest Games” and “Greatest Comebacks” in sports history, Strack will now give his thoughts on the “Greatest Individual Performances.” Today’s topic is the NHL)
By Rich Strack
Almost every sport, from the professional and college ranks down to high school and youth leagues has recently seen their season suspended or canceled.
With the process of starting up sports again still in its infancy, there remains a void for the athletes and fans alike.
If you’re like me, with many years of devotion to athletic competition, some of the greatest events from the past are still being played in your memory rewind.
So sit back and let me distract you from public concerns for just a moment with Part 3 of a series on the “Greatest Individual Performances” that will remain forever in my personal Hall of Fame.
Today I give you three of the best single-game NHL player performances of my lifetime.
1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Dominik Hasek vs. New Jersey Devils
Great goaltending in NHL hockey is like a great pitching duel in baseball. Lots of zeros flash on the scoreboard.
That’s exactly what happened in Game 6 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils.
Let’s start with the fact the game went four overtimes and finally ended at 1:52 a.m. Buffalo’s Dominik Hasek and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur made save-after-save and the score was 0-0 after regulation.
Hasek had already made 31 saves by the time regulation expired, but it was his 25th save that he still remembers to this day. Jersey’s Bobby Holik got a pass across to Stephane Richer on a 2-on-1 rush, only to see Hasek drop to a split and stop Richer’s shot with his pad.
Dominik “The Dominator” made another 39 saves in the four OTs as the Devils kept coming and coming. Hasek’s 70 saves set a modern-day NHL record for saves in a shutout, and finished three shy of the all-time record for saves in a playoff game (the Islanders’ Kelly Hrudey had 73 during a game in the 1987 playoffs).
Buffalo’s Dave Hannan used a backhander to finally beat Brodeur at 5:43 of the fourth OT to give the Sabres a 1-0 win and even the series 3-3. The Devils, however, would go on to win the next game and advance to the conference semifinals.
Feb. 14, 1986
Wayne Gretzky vs Quebec Nordiques
Wayne Gretzky is the all-time leading scorer in NHL history and once hammered home 92 goals in a single season.
So what happens when “The Great One” goes eight straight games without turning on the red light?
The Quebec Nordiques found out the hard way.
On Feb. 14, 1986, Gretzky totaled seven assists in an 8-2 Edmonton win over Quebec. He tied his own league record for the third time, but still did not score a single goal, pushing his goal-less streak to nine games.
But he assisted on every Oiler goal except one, which was short-handed while Gretzky was not on the ice.
One would think the league’s record-holding goal scorer would have been a puck hog, but his 1,963 assists is also the most by any one player in the NHL.
By the way, the streak ended in the next game when he scored a goal against Buffalo during a 7-5 win.
Dec. 26, 1996
Sergei Federov vs Washington Capitals
The final score of the game was Sergei Federov 5, the Washington Capitals 4. His Detroit Red Wings were trailing 3-2 midway through the third period when Federov completed his hat trick and pulled his team even. Washington’s Dale Hunter put his team back on top less than a minute later, but Federov slapped home a rebound for his fourth tally of the game and another tie score.
Then 2:39 into overtime, Federov took a pass from fellow Russian Vladimir Konstantinov and wristed the puck past Caps’ goalie Jim Carrey for his fifth goal and the game-winner. Federov was the first player in NHL history to score all the goals for his team when at least five were scored.
NHL players are the best athletes in the world, and that’s because their game is played on ice skates.
Now, imagine Hasek and Brodeur stopping frozen pucks shot at them over 100 times, many fired at nearly 100 miles per hour.
Gretzky played 20 seasons in the NHL for four teams from 1979 to 1999. Nicknamed “The Great One,” he has been called “the greatest hockey player ever” by many sports writers, players, and the NHL itself. Gretzky is the leading scorer in NHL history, with more goals and assists than any other player. He is the only NHL player to total over 200 points in one season - a feat he accomplished four times. To play a most physically demanding and grueling sport for two decades is an amazing feat in itself.
Federov was a prolific goal scorer and for one December game, he single-handedly defeated the Washington Capitals.
In every team sport, it is difficult for a single athlete to dominate a game, but let’s look at them from easiest to hardest.
In the NBA, it’s all too common for one player to have a night where his shots all fall and he leads his team to a win. In the NFL, a quarterback can throw multiple touchdown passes and a running back can rush for 200 or more yards. In the MLB, a pitcher can shut out his opponent and a hitter can go 5-for-5 and drive in five runs.
In the NHL, Hasek stopping 70 shots while standing in the crease for four overtimes, Gretzky and Federov scoring points while on the ice for less than one minute at a time make hockey the most difficult game for a single player to dominate.
And when a hockey player gets cut or has a tooth knocked out, he goes in the locker room for “repairs” and usually comes back to finish the game.
You don’t see that kind of toughness in any of the other major sports, in my opinion.