The 16,666 fans listed in attendance at a packed Chicago Stadium on March 12, 1966, had only one number on their minds: 51.
Ten days earlier, Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks had scored his 50th goal of the season in a game against the Detroit Red Wings, becoming the first NHL player to accomplish that feat twice. But the Blackhawks were shut out in their next three games.
Still, the crowd that filled Chicago Stadium that Saturday night 51 years ago had every reason to believe they would see history. The New York Rangers came to Chicago for the back end of the home-and-home series playing out the string of a season that would end with a last-place finish.
But though the packed house roared every time Hull got near the puck, nothing happened through the first two periods. The Rangers scored twice in the second and left the ice with a 2-0 lead, having extended the Blackhawks' scoreless streak to 11 periods.
Video: Memories: Hull makes history scoring goal number 51
However, Hull was on the ice and got an assist when Chico Maki broke the scoreless streak at 228 minutes, 55 seconds with a goal at 2:57 of the third period, cutting the deficit to 2-1. When Rangers defenseman Harry Howell was sent to the penalty box 68 seconds later, a ribbon of excitement rippled through the arena as Hull came back onto the ice.
Passes by Lou Angotti and Bill Hay put Hull alone, about 50 feet away from Rangers goaltender Cesare Maniago. Hull had plenty of time and space to step into a slap shot; with a little help from Eric Nesterenko's fly-by screen, the puck zipped past Maniago and into the NHL record book at 5:34.
As Hull's teammates raced to embrace him, fans tossed hats onto the ice and photographers scrambled to get a picture of the man who had just broken one of hockey's most prized records. Maniago, who had given up Bernie Geoffrion's 50th goal five years earlier, just stood and watched.
"It felt wonderful and certainly was a load off my back," Hull said later. "It was a thrill getting the goal, but the biggest thrill was that roar from the crowd."
After what seemed like an eternity, the game resumed and the Blackhawks scored twice more for a 4-2 victory. Hull, who had made history a few minutes earlier, had an assist on Maki's go-ahead goal.
Video: Bobby Hull used slap shot to win three scoring titles
Hull posed for countless photographers; one picture that became famous saw him wearing one of the straw hats with "51" on the crown that had been tossed onto the ice. Then it was off to answer more questions from wave after wave of writers.
"I got the puck from Angotti and moved in," his description of the goal in the Chicago Tribune began. "The defensemen were backed up because our wings were moving in. The ice was a bit sticky, so I actually didn't get a real good shot. I think they were expecting something faster."
By the time Hull got to the locker room, his teammates had long since showered and dressed. But when he finally left Chicago Stadium two hours after the game ended, a crowd of fans was waiting, eager to acknowledge the greatest single-season scorer in NHL history.
Hull finished the season with 54 goals, the most in a season by any player during the Original Six era.