Following their first appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Washington Capitals spent the first half of the 1983-84 season hovering around .500. At 19-20-3, the postseason was not a certainty for the Caps, who opened the year by losing their first seven contests.
Looking for a spark on offense, head coach Bryan Murray decided to pair his top three scorers, Bengt Gustafsson, Dave Christian and Mike Gartner, on the same line when the Caps played at Philadelphia on Jan. 8, 1984.
Murray’s experiment paid immediate dividends, and Gustafsson, aided by his linemates, etched his name into the team’s history books, setting the franchise mark for goals in a game with five goals on five shots against the Flyers.
The Capitals, who had lost 9-4 in their previous visit to The Spectrum on Dec. 15, exacted a measure of revenge against Philadelphia with a 7-1 trouncing of the Flyers.
“This was easy,” Gustafsson said after the game. “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.”
Gustafsson had played with Christian previously during the season, but the addition of Gartner, the team’s most potent scoring threat, made the Caps’ top line one of the most formidable in the NHL.
Gartner recorded assists on four of Gustafsson’s five goals, and joked after the game about his new linemate’s success.
“You want to know the difference between me and Gus tonight?” Gartner said. “He got five shots and I got five shots. But all five of his went in.”
Christian, acquired from Winnipeg in the offseason, added a goal and an assist in the contest, and Doug Jarvis scored as well for the Capitals.
Gustafsson – who will be coaching the Swedish Olympic team in February and is the father of Caps’ prospect Anton Gustafsson – struck twice in the first period, and completed his hat trick with a power-play goal at 11:41 of the second period to give the Caps a 4-1 lead.
While playing for Winnipeg, Christian had shared the ice with the first Swede to record five goals in a game, Willy Lindstrom, who accomplished the feat against the Flyers at the Spectrum on March 2, 1982.
Christian, remembering Lindstrom’s feat, had words of encouragement for Gustafsson, in his attempt to become the second Swede to score five in a game.
“Tonight after the second period, Dave told me, ‘You have to get five, too,’” Gustafsson said. “It’s easy to say. I didn’t expect to do it.”
But Gustafsson did, scoring at 5:12 and 10:11 of the third period to complete his memorable night. Despite missing 11 games due to injury, Gustafsson had a career year, finishing the season with 75 points (32 goals, 43 assists).
The win started a stretch that saw the Caps go 16-1-1 in a second half run to the playoffs, as the team finished the season at 48-27-5.
Gustafsson’s name sits with an exclusive list of 43 players that have scored five goals in a game, including Maurice Richard, Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.