Sittler's single-game points record still untouched
Records are made to be broken. But the mark Darryl Sittler set on Feb. 7, 1976, continues to stand the test of time.
On that early February night, Sittler shattered one of the most famous marks in hockey -- Maurice Richard's record of eight points in a game, a record set by "The Rocket" in December 1944 and matched only once in the next 32 years -- by Bert Olmstead in 1954. Richard had five goals and three assists; Sittler had one more of each, scoring six times and setting up four more goals as the Toronto Maple Leafs routed the Boston Bruins 11-4.
Sittler's 10-point night came out of nowhere. The Maple Leafs entered the game in a 1-4-2 funk that had led owner Harold Ballard to call him out for a lack of production. They were barely over .500 at 21-20-11. The Bruins, on the other hand, came to Toronto 20 points ahead of the Leafs 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 posted a 7-4-2 record while backing up Gilles Gilbert before the Bruins announced that longtime goaltender Gerry Cheevers was returning from the World Hockey Association.
That meant Reece would be headed back to the minors, but not before he was on the wrong end of history.
The night started innocently enough, with Sittler earning assists on first-period goals by Lanny McDonald and Ian Turnbull. But he heated up in the second period, pumping three shots past Reece and setting up a pair of goals by Borje Salming -- giving him seven points through 40 minutes as Toronto led 8-4.
Sittler remembered years later that the statistician at Maple Leaf Gardens came to him during the second intermission and let him know that he was just a point away from matching Richard's record.
Sittler needed just 44 seconds of the third period to get his eighth point and fourth goal of the night. The record-setting point came at 9:27, when he scored again on a past from Errol Thompson. A blast off a Boston defenseman's skate zipped past Reece at 16:35 to complete the historic night.
"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 his big night.
"To see the number of players who've gone through the League, guys line Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, even today's players like Sidney Crosby -- I still hold the record. ... I'm proud to hold the record. I hope it lasts a lot longer." -- Darryl Sittler on his single-game points record, which still stands to this day
Since then, nine players (including Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux twice) have managed eight points in a game -- Edmonton's Sam Gagner had an eight-point night last Feb, 2, the first since Lemieux's on Dec. 31, 1988. No one has had nine points in a game, let alone 10.
"To see the number of players who've gone through the League, guys line Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, even today's players like Sidney Crosby -- I still hold the record," Sittler told CBC in an interview earlier this season. "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, of course, went on to a Hall of Fame career with 484 goals and 1,121 points. 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 5.32 last season, Sittler's record figures to last a while longer.
"You never say never, but it's a longshot," he said when asked if it would ever be broken. "There are very few times when 10 goals are scored by one team, let alone for one player to be in on all 10.
"I think it will be difficult, but who knows -- it could happen. There are a lot more power plays than there were back then, and a lot of great players."