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Stamkos hoping to join the NHL's 50-in-50 club

by John Kreiser
With 20 goals in the Tampa Bay Lightning's first 21 games, Steven Stamkos has given himself a chance to join one of the NHL's truly elite groups: the 50/50 club.

Just five players in League history have managed to score 50 goals in their team's first 50 games (four others had 50 in the first 50 games in which they played, but missed games along the way). To say it's an impressive list would be a vast understatement. Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux and Brett Hull are five of the greatest scorers hockey ever has seen.

For comparison, not even today's biggest gun, Alex Ovechkin, has come close -- in 2007-08, when he scored 65 goals -- the most in one season in the past 12 years -- Ovi had "just" 39 in his first 50 games before closing with a rush, scoring 26 times in Washington's final 32 contests.

Stamkos had 19 goals after 19 games, the same pace as four of the five 50/50 players -- Richard, Bossy, Gretzky (in 1981-82, the first of three times he was a 50-in-50 player) and Hull. The last time anyone matched Stamkos' pace was 2005-06, when Simon Gagne of Philadelphia had 20 in 20 games (and 21 in 21) but finished with 47.

"It's just the way things are going right now," Stamkos told when asked about his hot start. "I'm working really hard and I'm trying to buy into the system."

Here's a look at the 50-in-50 club he's love to join:

Maurice Richard, Montreal Canadiens
1944-45: 50 goals in 50-game schedule

Richard and the Montreal Canadiens tore up the war-ravaged NHL in 1944-45. Richard entered the final night of the 50-game season, a March 18 game at Boston, with 49 goals -- having already broken the League record of 44, held by Joe Malone. He had been denied No. 50 the night before when referee King Clancy disallowed a goal, frustrating Montreal Forum fans in the process.

The Bruins were determined to keep "The Rocket" from getting No. 50 at their expense. The Bruins led 2-1 in the third period and were stifling Richard and his linemates, Elmer Lach and Toe Blake.

They almost completed the shutdown task -- but with 2:15 left in the game, Richard found some space and fired a shot past Boston goaltender Harvey Bennett for goal No. 50. To complete the night for the Habs, Richard set up Elmer Lach for the go-ahead goal 57 seconds later.

Lach, Richard and Toe Blake, the Habs' famed "Punch Line," finished 1-2-3 in League scoring. However, the Canadiens were ousted in the Stanley Cup semifinals by Toronto. Richard's record of 50 goals in a season stood until Boom Boom Geoffrion matched it in 1960-61, and his 50-in-50 season went unmatched for more than 35 years.

Mike Bossy, New York Islanders
1980-81: 50 goals in 50 games (full season: 68 in 79 games)

Bossy terrorized goaltenders from the moment he took the ice for the first time in the NHL in 1977. He became the first rookie ever to reach the 50-goal mark and scored 573 times in 10 seasons before back problems forced him to retire at age 30.

Having broken the 50-goal mark in each of his first three seasons, Bossy turned his attention to Richard's mark of 50 goals in 50 games. He had 25 in his first 23 games for the defending Stanley Cup champs and entered the Islanders' game against Quebec on Jan. 24, 1981, with 48 in 49 games.

But Bossy was fighting a two-front battle. Not only was he chasing the Rocket, but he was battling Charlie Simmer of the Los Angeles Kings, who also was threatening the 50-in-50 mark. Simmer, part of the Kings' "Triple Crown Line," got three goals in game No. 50, giving him 49. Bossy was shut out through two periods of the Isles' game against the Nordiques, but scored twice late in the third period to match the Rocket's mark. Goal No. 50, a shot from the left circle off a feed by long-time linemate and friend Bryan Trottier, sent Bossy leaping into the air as the Islanders flooded onto the ice and the Nassau Coliseum crowd went wild.

The best reward for Bossy was back in the Isles' locker room: a telegram of congratulations from the Rocket himself.

Wayne Gretzky, Edmonton Oilers
1981-82: 50 goals in 39 games (full season: 92 in 80 games)
1983-84: 50 goals in 42 games (full season: 87 in 74 games)
1984-85: 50 goals in 49 games (full season: 73 in 80 games)

Gretzky was a sensation as soon as he hit the ice with the Edmonton Oilers, one of four WHA teams that joined the NHL in 1979. He tied for the League scoring lead in his rookie season and won it in his second season. But his reputation was as a passer, not a shooter -- which is why his performance 1981-82 was so unexpected.

With teams playing him to pass, the 21-year-old came out shooting -- and scoring. He had 19 goals after 19 games -- and then really got hot. Gretzky reached the 40-goal mark in Game 36 against Calgary, got No. 41 in the next game against Vancouver, and connected for a second four-goal game against Los Angeles on Dec. 27, giving him 45 in 38 games.

"I thought to myself, 'You can't choke now,'" he said years later when asked about of his pursuit of the legendary 50-in-50 mark.

He didn't.

No. 99 entered the Oilers' final game of 1981, a home contest against Philadelphia on Dec. 30 at Northlands Coliseum (now Rexall Place), with 45 goals in 38 games. No other player in the NHL had even hit 30. He knew right away it would be a special night.

"Charlie Huddy took a shot from the left point that bounced off the boards and right to me at the corner of the net and I put it in," Gretzky remembered of his first goal that night. "I thought to myself, 'How fortunate.' I got the 47th, the 48th, and the 49th, but it was ironic -- I had eight or nine point-blank chances and (Flyers goaltender) Pete Peeters made some great saves."

Peeters was on the bench for an extra attacker in the final minute when Glenn Anderson skimmed the puck out of the zone. Gretzky caught up to it and dunked it for the historic goal, making it a very Happy New Year in Edmonton.

Gretzky had 61 goals in 50 games and finished with 92 -- a number that actually disappointed him.

"It was a thrill to get 92 goals, but in some ways, I thought I let myself down by not getting 100," he said. "Maybe I should have pushed myself more."

No one has come close to his 50-in-39 performance since then -- not even Gretzky himself, though he had 50 in 42 games two seasons later and 50 in 49 the season after that. Those accomplishments have been overshadowed by his historic performance in 1981-82.  
Mario Lemieux, Pittsburgh Penguins
1988-89: 50 goals in 46 games (full season: 85 in 76 games)

Lemieux scored a goal on his first NHL shift and never stopped scoring. By the fall of 1988, he was the most feared player in the NHL whose name wasn't Gretzky -- and he was ready to begin a season for the ages.

Lemieux had 22 goals in his first 19 games, putting him ahead of Gretzky's pace of seven seasons earlier. The goals kept piling up -- on Dec. 31, he became the first (and only) player in NHL history to score in every way possible: at even strength, on the power play, shorthanded, on a penalty shot and into an empty net. Not even Gretzky could match that one.

Despite missing a couple of games with injury, Lemieux joined the 50-in-50 club with room to spare, getting the milestone goal during a 7-3 loss at Winnipeg on Jan. 20, 1989. It was the Penguins' 46th game of the season, but just the 44th for Lemieux.

No. 66 went on to finish with 85 goals and 199 points, numbers that only Gretzky had surpassed. He dethroned The Great One as the NHL's scoring champion and League MVP while leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 1982.

Despite battling injuries, Lemieux was the driving force behind the Penguins' Stanley Cup championships in 1991 and 1992.

In both 1992-93 and 1995-96, he scored 50 goals in the first 50 games he played (47 games in '92-93, 50 in '95-96), but missed extensive time due to injury.

Brett Hull, St. Louis Blues
1990-91: 50 goals in 49 games (full season: 86 in 78 games)
1991-92: 50 goals in 50 games (full season: 70 in 73 games)

Scoring goals came naturally to Hull -- his father, after all, was hockey legend Bobby Hull, the first player in NHL history to score more than 50 goals in a season and who missed 50-in-50 by just two games in 1965-66. The younger Hull had 52 goals in 42 games as a sophomore at Minnesota-Duluth, then put up 41 in his first full season with the Blues after being acquired from Calgary.

But that was just a warm-up for 1990-91. With center Adam Oates putting the puck on his stick at the best possible times, Hull filled the net for the St. Louis Blues. He got goal No. 50 (his second of the game) against Detroit on Jan. 25, 1991, during a 9-4 victory, and had 52 in 50 games on the way to scoring 86 times, the most ever by a right wing and the most by any player other than Gretzky.

Hull repeated as a 50-in-50 player the following season, beating Los Angeles' Kelly Hrudey for the milestone goal during a 3-3 tie on Jan. 28, 1992. He finished with "only" 70 goals, with part of the slowdown due to a mid-season trade that sent Oates to Boston for Craig Janney, a good passer but one not in Oates' league as a set-up man.

Hull had 54 and 57 goals in the next two seasons, but never broke the 50-goal mark again. He did, however, have six more seasons with 30 or more goals and finished his NHL career with 741.

No one has had a 50-in-50 season since Hull did it 19 years ago. Alexander Mogilny (1992-93), Lemieux (1992-93, 1995-96) and Cam Neely (1993-94) all had 50 goals before playing 50 games, but injuries meant that their teams were past the 50-game mark. Edmonton's Jari Kurri also did it in 1984-85 -- meaning that two Oilers scored 50 times in their first 50 games, a mark that may never be matched.
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