It's an axiom in sports that records are made to be broken. The one Darryl Sittler set on Feb. 7, 1976, continues to be an exception.
On that night 41 years ago, Sittler shattered one of the most famous records in NHL history. Maurice Richard had eight points for the Montreal Canadiens in a game on Dec. 28, 1944, and his single-game mark had been matched only once, by Bert Olmstead on Jan. 9, 1954. Richard had five goals and three assists in a 9-1 win against the Detroit Red Wings; Sittler had one more of each, scoring six times and setting up four goals in the Toronto Maple Leafs' 11-4 win against the visiting Boston Bruins.
It's not like Sittler or the Maple Leafs came into the game on a roll. Toronto was 21-20-11 and 1-4-2 in its previous seven games, leading owner Harold Ballard to call out his captain for a lack of production. The Bruins came to Maple Leaf Gardens 20 points ahead of Toronto in the Adams Division standings, having won seven in a row and riding a 15-1-1 surge. Boston had gotten a boost from the goaltending of rookie Dave Reece, who was 7-4-2 as the backup to Gilles Gilbert.
Video: Memories: Sittler sets NHL record with 10-point game
However, the Bruins announced that longtime goaltender Gerry Cheevers would be returning from the World Hockey Association. That meant a return to the minors for Reece, but not before he was on the wrong end of history.
The night started innocently enough, with Sittler getting assists on first-period goals by linemate Lanny McDonald and defenseman Ian Turnbull. That was just a warmup for the second period, when he scored three times against Reece and set up two goals by defenseman Borje Salming, giving him seven points when Toronto led 8-4.
"There was such a buzz in the dressing room in the second intermission, especially after [Maple Leafs publicity director] Stan Obodiac came in and told Darryl that he was one point shy of tying Rocket Richard's record," McDonald told NHL.com in 2016.
It took 44 seconds of the third period for Sittler to equal Richard's mark; he scored his fourth goal of the game to make it 9-4. The record-setting point came at 9:27 when he scored his fifth goal, this one on a pass from Errol Thompson. Sittler completed his historic game at 16:35, when his shot hit the skate of a Boston defenseman and went past Reese for his sixth goal and 10th point.
"Undoubtedly Mr. Ballard will figure his little blast inspired me to set the record, but it just isn't that way," Sittler told the Toronto Star after the game.
Since then, nine players (including Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux twice each) have had eight points in an NHL regular-season game; no one has had nine, let alone 10. The most recent player to have eight points was Sam Gagner of the Edmonton Oilers, who scored four goals and had four assists on Feb, 2, 2012. It was the first eight-point game in the regular season since Lemieux's second on Dec. 31, 1988.
"To see the number of players who've gone through the League, guys like Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, even today's players like Sidney Crosby, -- I still hold the record," Sittler told CBC in a 2013 interview. "Who knows, at some point something might happen for some player where it may all come together. Gagner had eight points last year kind of out of the blue with Edmonton, and resurrected talk of it again.
"I'm proud to hold the record. I hope it lasts a lot longer."
Sittler went on to have a Hall of Fame career with 484 goals and 1,121 points, and was selected as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players as part of the League's Centennial Celebration. Reece was sent back to the minors as scheduled, never played another NHL game and retired the following season.
Given that an average game in 1975-76 saw 6.82 goals scored while that number was down to 5.34 last season, Sittler's record figures to last a while longer.