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When Sundstrom Beat Gretzky | SUNDAYS WITH STAN

Sundstrom set an NHL record for points in a playoff game, supplanting 'The Great One'

by Stan Fischler / Special to

As New Jersey Devils players went during the heart-throbbing 1988 playoffs, Patrik Sundstrom could have passed for The Quiet Man. Diffident to a fault, The Swift Swede let his ice work do the talking. "Post-game," said a SportsChannel director, "you hardly could get a peep out of him."

Then, along came Game 3 of the 1988 Washington-New Jersey series and everything changed for Patrik and his playmates. Or, to put it another way, all hell - and happiness - broke loose over the seven-game set.

The hellish part involved the most penalized playoff series in NHL history. The seven-game tourney ended with 654 whopping penalty minutes, the majority of which were taken by the Devils.

New Jersey set a record for most penalty minutes in a single season by one team with 349. The violence culminated in the fight-sprinkled Game 3 that lasted three hours and 25 minutes.

It included 62 penalties and 231 penalty minutes and unprecedented nastiness.

"Guys were genuinely trying to hurt each other," said New Jersey's Anders Carlsson. "We both had very tough teams, but the difference was that Washington's tough guys were also their best players.

"So, when Scott Stevens, Dale Hunter and those fellas were ejected from that game, we had a pretty easy path to victory. And Patty was the one who benefited most from that."

Patrik Sundstrom, that is.

"Every time the puck was on Patrik's stick," said linemate Mark Johnson, "it seemed that, somehow, we'd score."

Johnson's efforts spoke firsthand. He scored four goals skating alongside the overly productive Sundstrom. I was there as well in my SportsChannel TV role and couldn't believe what my eyes and ears - from the crowd noise - were telling me.

Patrik's twin brother, Peter, skating on the other side for Washington, was equally stunned. "Patrik could do no wrong," the Caps' Sundstrom twin would say.

With the Devils surging in the third period, Patrik already had racked up two goals and five assists. In the press row, reporters noted that Sundstrom was taking aim at a playoff record of points in a postseason game, previously set by Wayne Gretzky.

"Players on the bench were chirping me that I had to get one more point," Sundstrom remembered. "We had already killed the game and they were worried that I was going to let down and save energy for the next game."

The Garden Staters were making sure that Patty kept pressing - and he didn't let them down.

With less than six minutes remaining, Sundstrom cut across the ice from the right and deposited the puck between goalie Clint Malarchuk's pads.

Sundstrom: "Being a Swede, I was unaware of the record before they announced it. There was a lot of commotion in the arena after and, naturally, the guys were really happy for me.

"The thing was that I couldn't spend much time celebrating. We were in the middle of a tight playoff series, so I had to put it behind me fast."

Well, not so fast, brother.

Not only did he set a record for points in a playoff game with eight but the most un-real aspect of all was that Patty had broken the record previously held by The Great One.

"When the game ended, I didn't think it was such a big deal," Sundstrom went on. "But looking backward, I began to realize it was a pretty neat feat."

The game ended 10-4 for New Jersey and, as I headed toward the Devils dressing room, I wondered whether ultra-modest Patrik would hide from the media crowd.

What surprised me most was how front-and-center he was when we confronted him in front of the camera. He was just fine although not overly analytical about his historic performance. 

"Doing what I did," Patrik concluded, "has put me in pretty good company."

To say the least.

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