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Seven of the most unlikely single-game performances

Wednesday, 09.05.2012 / 9:55 PM / NHL Insider

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Seven of the most unlikely single-game performances
NHL.com's John Kreiser takes a look at seven of the greatest and most unlikely single-game performances in NHL history.

The NHL record book is filled with accomplishments by the greatest stars in hockey history -- Wayne Gretzky's record-setting 92 goals in 1981-82, Bobby Orr winning scoring titles as a defenseman and Martin Brodeur piling up 119 (and counting) shutouts are just a few.

But there are also guys in the record book that weren't household names -- players whose brush with greatness was confined to a single night.

Here are some of the greatest and most unlikely one-game performances in NHL history:

Sam LoPresti

March 4, 1941

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LoPresti, a native of Eveleth, Minn., lasted just two seasons and 74 games in the NHL, but that was more than enough time to earn his line in the record books for most saves by a goaltender in a single game.

LoPresti took the ice for Chicago at Boston on March 4, 1941, and was immediately under siege from the powerful Bruins, who were on their way to a first-place finish. The Bruins pelted the rookie goaltender with shot after shot, only to see him make the save. They did manage to get three pucks past LoPresti, but he set an NHL record that still stands by making 80 saves -- earning an ovation from the Boston Garden crowd despite the loss. No goaltender since that night has faced more than 73 shots.

Billy Taylor

March 16, 1947

Two players in NHL history have had seven assists in a regular-season game. One is Gretzky, who did it three times while playing with the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s. The other was Taylor, who did it for Detroit late in the 1946-47 season.

Taylor and the Wings rolled into Chicago Stadium needing a win against the last-place Hawks to help them hold onto the fourth and final playoff position. He proceeded to earn assists on seven of Detroit's 10 goals in a 10-6 victory. Before Taylor's feat, no player had earned more than five assists in a single game.

Taylor led the NHL in assists that season with 46 and was third in scoring with 65 points. But the Wings traded him to Boston that summer, and he was suspended by NHL president Clarence Campbell late in the 1947-48 season for gambling violations.

Don Murdoch

Oct. 12, 1976

The New York Rangers were in a rebuilding phase in the mid-1970s when they took Murdoch with the sixth pick in the 1976 NHL Draft. With the core of their powerhouse teams from the early '70s getting older, Murdoch earned a berth on the team and wasted no time in showing why the Rangers drafted him.

In only his fourth NHL game, Murdoch lit up the Minnesota North Stars for five goals as the Rangers won 10-5 at Met Center. Toronto's Howie Meeker was the only other first-year player to score five times in a game; no one has matched that mark since Murdoch did it.

Murdoch went on to score 15 goals in his first 15 games and 32 in 59 games before a severe ankle injury ended his season. He had 27 goals in his second season but was suspended by the NHL for the first half of the 1978-79 season after pleading guilty to a drug possession charge and was gone from the NHL by 1982.

Ian Turnbull

Feb. 2, 1977

For all his greatness, Bobby Orr never scored more than three goals in a game. Neither did Hall of Famers like Ray Bourque and Brian Leetch. Paul Coffey, another Hall of Famer, did get four. But Turnbull, a Montreal native taken in the first round of the 1973 NHL Draft by Toronto, is the only defenseman in NHL history ever to get five.

Turnbull was perhaps best known as Hall of Famer Borje Salming's partner with the Leafs for much of the 1970s. But he stepped into the spotlight when Detroit came to Maple Leaf Gardens in early February of 1977, beating Ed Giacomin twice and Jim Rutherford three times as the Leafs overpowered the Red Wings 9-1.

Ian Turnbull notched 123 goals and 317 assists in 628 NHL games, but is probably best remembered for being the only player in League history to score five times in a game on just five shots.
(Photo: NHLI via Getty Images)

Amazingly, Turnbull scored his goals on his only five shots on goal -- he's the first, and still only, player in League history to score five times on just five shots.

Turnbull finished the season with career highs of 22 goals and 79 points, but never got close to either total again and was out of the NHL before his 30th birthday.

Al Hill

Feb. 14, 1977

No player in NHL history had a better debut than Hill, whose lack of scoring left him undrafted before the Philadelphia Flyers signed him as a free agent.

Hill, playing on a line with Bob Clarke and Bob Kelly, wasted no time making an impact after the injury-plagued Flyers called him up from the minors -- he scored his first NHL goal just 36 seconds into the game, ripping a 40-foot slapper past St. Louis goaltender Yves Belanger. Hill got his second goal of the game less than 11 minutes later, then added three assists as the Flyers beat the Blues 6-4.

Hill also got into a fight, giving him a Gordie Howe hat trick in his debut.

It took NHL statisticians several days of research to determine that Hill had set a record for the most points by a player in his first NHL game -- and by that time, he had been returned to the minors. He went on to play 221 NHL games, all with the Flyers, scoring 40 goals and 95 points.

Jeff Reese

Feb. 10, 1993

Reese is known today as one of the NHL's best goaltending coaches -- he earned a Stanley Cup ring with Tampa Bay in 2004 and now works for the Philadelphia Flyers. He never won more than 14 games in a season during his 12-year playing career, but he's in the record books more for his offense than his goaltending skills.

Reese was playing for the Calgary Flames when the second-year San Jose Sharks came to the Saddledome. The Flames delighted their fans by demolishing the lowly Sharks 13-1, and Reese set a mark for goaltenders that has yet to be equaled by earning assists on three of Calgary's 13 goals that night.

How out of character was the three-assist night? In the other 173 games of Reese's career, he had only five more assists.

Sam Gagner

Feb. 2, 2012

Sam Gagner
Sam Gagner
Center - EDM
GOALS: 18 | ASST: 29 | PTS: 47
SOG: 149 | +/-: 5
Gagner, the son of former NHL player Dave Gagner, became the sixth player taken in the 2007 NHL Draft when he was selected by Edmonton. He was good enough to make the Oilers as an 18-year-old and finished his first season with 13 goals and 49 points.

But Gagner never built on his promising start -- he had no more than 16 goals and 42 points in any of his next three seasons, and there were rumors circulating that he could be traded by the time the Chicago Blackhawks came to Rexall Place during their annual February road trip.

Much to the amazement of everyone in the building, Gagner scored four times and added four assists to become the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1988 -- and just the 13th in NHL history -- to pile up eight points in a game. He added three more points in the Oilers' next game against Detroit to set a franchise record for points in a two-game span with 11, one more than the previous mark held by Gretzky.

Despite the outburst, Gagner finished the season with only 47 points -- though his 18 goals were a career high.

Quote of the Day

It's really exciting. I'm pretty sure that when I play my first game I'm going to be emotional. To be back on the ice playing a game, being in game situations, with all the routines and rituals I do before games and during the game, I feel like I'm going to be emotional. I'm going to be really happy.

— Montreal Canadiens forward Tim Bozon on playing for the first time since his life-threaning illness