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Five for Gus

by Staff Writer / Washington Capitals
On Jan. 8, 1984, Caps winger Bengt Gustafsson became the first player in franchise history to net five goals in a game when he hung a five-spot on the Flyers in Philadelphia, a game the Caps won by a 7-1 count. It was the 40th time in NHL history (at that time) that a player had scored five goals in a single game, and Gustafsson became the 32nd different player to achieve the feat.


Bengt Gustafsson Gustafsson accomplished the feat against the late Pelle Lindbergh, Gustafsson’s one-time junior teammate.

“It doesn’t matter,” Gustafsson was quoted as saying in the Jan. 9 edition of The Washington Post. “The main thing is that we won. We lost the last game in here and played pretty bad. We had to come back and make up for it.

“It was one of those nights when everything goes in, it goes in and goes in. It’s just nice. It’s not the season. It’s the start of a road trip and we wanted to get started right and put a few wins together.”

Playing on a newly formed line with Dave Christian and Mike Gartner, Gustafsson scored his five goals with just five shots on goal. He became the second Swede to turn the trick; Willy Lindstrom of Winnipeg did it in Philadelphia against the Flyers in 1982. Christian was the common thread; he was playing on a line with Lindstrom the night he netted five goals in a game. Both players were members of the Winnipeg Jets at the time.

“This was easy,” said the man known simply as “Gus,” in the Jan. 9 edition of The Journal Messenger. “Just close your eyes and keep your stick on the ice. That’s how it felt. I didn’t have to do much. It was like five empty nets.”

The goals lifted Gustafsson’s season total to 22, matching his total from the previous season in Washington’s 43rd game of the 1983-84 campaign. The win lifted Washington’s record to 20-20-3 as the team vied for a second straight playoff berth.

Gustafsson’s outburst touched off what remains one of the most prolific regular season stretch of hockey in Washington’s annals. Starting with that 7-1 win over the Flyers, the Capitals went 29-7-2 during the remainder of the regular season.

Some longtime Washington hockey observers insist that Gustafsson was the most talented player ever to come through these parts, until Alex Ovechkin arrived on the scene in 2005-06. In 1978, Gustafsson was Washington’s first ever European-born and trained draft selection. The Caps tabbed him with their fifth choice (fourth round, 55th overall) in the 1978 NHL Amateur Draft.

Gustafsson’s first taste of North American pro hockey came in the dying days of the renegade World Hockey Association. He signed with the Edmonton Oilers of the WHA in Mar. 1979, and appeared in two playoff games for the Oilers that spring. The Oilers claimed Gustafsson as one of three players (including Wayne Gretzky) that Edmonton intended to keep for itself following the merger between the WHA and the NHL. The Caps disputed Edmonton’s right to do so, and fought the move by claiming Gustafsson in the NHL Reclaim Draft on June 9. Gustafsson NHL rights remained in dispute until September when NHL President John Ziegler upheld Washington’s claim, awarding him to the Caps because Edmonton had broken WHA rules to sign him.

Gustafsson spent nine seasons with Washington, appearing in 629 regular season games and totaling 196 goals, 359 assists and 555 points. He still ranks fourth on the franshise’s all-time list in goals, sixth in assists and fifth in points.

Gustafsson is now the coach of Sweden’s national team, and he led the club to an Olympic gold medal last February, and also piloted his team to the gold at the 2006 IIHF World Championship games in Latvia.

The Capitals have played more than 2,500 NHL games in their history in the league, and in only three of those games has any player scored five goals. Gustafsson was the first; he was followed by Washington’s Peter Bondra on Feb. 5, 1994 and Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov on Dec. 26, 1996.

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