Tocchet’s unexpected burst of offense still a Flyers record

Three hat tricks in the span of four games.

Eleven total goals.

A road trip to remember for Flyers fans old enough to stay up late and watch it.

If you work up a short list of Orange and Black snipers, it’s easy to think of Reggie Leach, Rick MacLeish, Brian Propp, Tim Kerr, John LeClair, Simon Gagne and now Danny Briere.

But Rick Tocchet? Strange but true.

Tocchet played 18 memorable NHL seasons, and was paired alongside some bona-fide Hall-of-Fame talent for a good portion of that time, but he wasn’t always the complete player that everyone now retroactively gives him credit for.

Taken in the sixth round of the high-yield 1983 draft, the native of Scarborough, Ontario was handed a spot in the Flyers lineup for the 1984-85 season as a rookie based on his work ethic, toughness and his ability to drop the gloves whenever and wherever necessary.

Those hands, once chiseled in stone and the scourge of many unsuspecting opponents during his first three years with Philadelphia, began to soften in his fourth.

With 50-goal scorer Tim Kerr missing virtually the entire 1987-88 season, the scoring needed to be spread equally amongst the rest of the lineup for the Flyers to stay afloat in the suddenly competitive Patrick Division. Suddenly, Propp and players like Pelle Eklund, Tocchet, Peter Zezel, Scott Mellanby and Dave Poulin shouldered a collective burden.

In Mike Keenan’s fourth year at the helm, the Flyers started out a dismal 6-13-3, then went unbeaten in 14 straight (12-0-2) and went from worst to first from Thanksgiving to Christmas. By late February, it looked like the Stanley Cup finalists had finally righted the ship and would claim their fourth straight division crown.

On February 21, the Flyers opened up a home-and-road series with the Detroit Red Wings at the Spectrum. They were three points up on Washington and the Islanders but faced a resurgent first-place Wings team less than two years removed from a dead-last finish.

Tocchet’s offense was needed as the visitors nearly wiped out a three-goal deficit in the third period. He scored twice in the second and added the empty-netter with 29 seconds left in a 5-3 victory to give him a new career high with 22 goals.

Then, the club headed on a cross-country road trip to Detroit, Los Angeles, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary and New Jersey. All Hell broke loose, and Tocchet was holding the reins on the fiery chariot.

Two nights later at Joe Louis Arena, Tocchet only scored once, but the Flyers erased deficits of 3-0, 5-1 and 6-4 with a club-record seven goals in the third period to net an epic 11-6 victory.

After a four-day layoff, the Kings awaited at the Fabulous Forum. Despite two goals from somebody named Lyle Phair and a four-goal Los Angeles first period, Tocchet hit the net four more times in a come-from-behind 8-6 decision.

Only 14 seconds after Mellanby gave the Flyers a one-goal advantage, and with one second left on the clock, Tocchet capped off his hat-trick-plus-one with a diving, bank-shot off the boards from his own zone into the empty net.

The crazy, 80′s-style red-light bonanza continued at Pacific Coliseum in British Columbia, Canada on March 1.

Philly scored five goals in the first period en route to a 7-3 win against the Canucks, with Tocchet netting both goals in the third to cap off his momentous burst of scoring. His final tally in the last two minutes of regulation gave him 30 goals on the year.

The magic ended in Vancouver. Felled by a knee injury at the end of the trip, Tocchet only scored once for the remainder of the season.

It’s been 16 years since a Flyers player recorded back-to-back hat tricks. Lindros, in healthier and more dominant days was the last to accomplish the feat on March 18 (at Florida) and 20 (Montreal) in the lockout-shortened 1995 season.

Since 1984, there have been four games where more than one Flyers skater has recorded a hat trick…but nobody has come close to equaling what Tocchet unleashed during this torrid eight-day stretch.

With Keenan gone and replaced by Paul Holmgren, Tocchet suddenly rediscovered his scoring touch with 45 goals in 1988-89. He was second only to the recovered Kerr — who posted 48.

It was the start of bigger and better things for the Comcast SportsNet intermission analyst, who eventually became the club’s scoring leader and captain before he was dealt to Pittsburgh in February, 1992.