"It was one of those nights where you have eight points, but you could have easily had 12," said Nicholls.
That is how Bernie Nicholls remembers the game he scored eight points in the Kings' 9-3 rout of the Maple Leafs. Thirty years later, Nicholls' offensive tour de force still remains a Kings franchise record.
"It was one of those nights where you had the puck all night. You just have opportunity after opportunity. It was obviously a fun night. Anytime you're involved in that many goals scored, it's always great," he recalled fondly.
Despite rewriting the club's record book that night, Nicholls still laments that he should have had more goals. "I remember I should have had four goals. Absolutely should have had four goals. Would've been better to have that many goals and 10 points. You get frustrated when you should have goals and you don't get 'em," he exclaimed.
Had Nicholls bagged those two extra goals, he would have matched Darryl Sittler's NHL record for the most points in a game. On February 7, 1976, in an 11-4 victory over the Bruins, Toronto's Sittler registered six goals and 10 points, a league record that has yet to be matched.
Reflecting on his record-setting game many years later, Sittler didn't have a theory for what led to his dynamic offensive performance, but he has since noted that he did deviate from his standard game day routine. Usually, his wife, Wendy, would have prepared his pregame meal, but she was out running errands that day.
Instead, Sittler recalled picking up Swiss Chalet and eating it in his car on the way back to his house for an afternoon nap. Whether or not the rotisserie chicken made the difference, the departure from his typical routine is something that has always stuck with Sittler.
For Nicholls, however, there was no notable changes. "I don't remember what I ate that day. I'm pretty sure it was the same as normal. I'd have my pasta and chicken," he noted.
"At the time I was living inland a lot, so I would stay right near the Forum every day. After practice I'd go have lunch somewhere near there and then spend the afternoon at the Airport Park Hotel and just walk across," Nicholls added.
Although Nicholls doesn't recall anything unusual leading up to that memorable game on December 1, 1988, he does remember a change he made to his routine earlier in the season. "We were in Winnipeg, and Gretz told me that Jari Kurri used to take his stick home with him for good luck," Nicholls remembered.
At the time, he was using a new stick every game, but maybe Gretzky was onto something. "When Gretz tells you to do anything, you're going to do it. If he tells you to eat a Big Mac every day, I'd be eating Big Macs," Nicholls chuckled.
But instead of grabbing a burger after their morning skate in Winnipeg, Nicholls took his stick with him. "I took it home with me and took it on the bus to our pre-game meal and set it beside me. I took it to bed and put it in bed with me. Then I took it to the game and scored three goals that night," he said.
From there on out, Nicholls was never far from his stick on game days. Although he might have looked a little out place with his twig by his side in restaurant booths in Los Angeles in the late '80s, he didn't seem to mind.
"It's a little different than when you're somewhere in Canada," he explained. "You walk into a restaurant with a stick in Canada they're going to look at you, but it's not that big of a deal because they'll know who you are anyway," Nicholls added.
Even if Nicholls spotted a few raised eyebrows from his fellow patrons, it was worth it. He finished the campaign with 70 goals, establishing a Kings franchise record that still stands to this day.
As for the eight-point game in question, Nicholls can confirm he didn't break from routine. "I know for a fact that that I took that stick with me to pre-game that day, I took it to bed that afternoon, and brought it to the game with me. I did that for the rest of the year," he said.
When Wayne Gretzky tells you to do something, you do it.