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Wayne Gretzky persisted to score No. 77

Oilers forward broke Phil Esposito's single-season NHL record for goals 35 years ago Friday

by John Kreiser @jkreiser7713 / Managing Editor

Wayne Gretzky scored his record-setting 77th goal the way he got the first 76: He just kept shooting.

Gretzky entered the Edmonton Oilers' game against the Buffalo Sabres at Memorial Auditorium on Feb. 24, 1982 with 76 goals, equaling the single-season record set by Phil Esposito of the Boston Bruins 11 years earlier. For more than 53 minutes, he fired away at Buffalo goaltender Don Edwards, only to come up empty. Gretzky had two assists in the first period but was not dominating play, as he often did. Most of the roars at the Aud were for Buffalo's Gilbert Perreault, who had a hat trick and tied the game 3-3 with a goal 2:27 into the third period.

"I just kept trying," Gretzky said. "You can score a goal until the last second of the game."

Actually, he didn't cut it that close.

Gretzky took the puck away from Sabres forward Steve Patrick, got away from an attempted hook by defenseman Richie Dunn and found himself alone with Edwards, who had allowed one goal by No. 99 in three seasons.

Gretzky's low shot from the slot found the back of the net at 13:24, breaking the record and giving the Oilers the lead.

"The first thing that came into my head,'' he said, ''was that it put us up 4-3. Then there was relief and a sense of satisfaction and it took a lot of pressure off me."

Video: Memories: Gretzky breaks Esposito's record

For good measure, Gretzky scored Nos. 78 and 79 in the final 1:44 of what became a 6-3 Edmonton victory 35 years ago Friday.

Among the accolades for the 21-year-old was a telegram of congratulations from President Ronald Reagan. But Gretzky also appreciated the fact Edwards skated the length of the ice to shake his hand at the end of the game.

Also on hand was Esposito, who retired a year earlier and had been following Gretzky for several days.

''The only thing I felt nervous about,'' Gretzky said, ''was that Phil had to be here, and I wanted him to get back to the things he had to do. That created all the pressure."

Gretzky's scoring pace actually slowed after he set the record. After scoring 77 goals in Edmonton's first 65 games, he had 15 in the Oilers' final 15 games and none in the final two. Still, his 92 goals in one season are a record not likely to be broken any time soon.

However, he did feel a bit unfulfilled.

"It was a thrill to get 92 goals, but in some ways, I thought I let myself down by not getting 100," Gretzky said two decades later when asked if he were disappointed he hadn't hit the century mark. "Maybe I should have pushed myself more."

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