After all these years, it’s still hard to believe that the Philadelphia Flyers were the team Wayne Gretzky victimized en route to yet another potentially-unbreakable NHL single-season record.
I could see it against Calgary with the Battle of Alberta, and even against the lowly Canucks or Devils. But no, it had to be against the Orange and Black in a down year.
But it happened, December 30, 1981. Needing five goals to reach 50 in just his 39th game, Number 99 decided to get them all in one night — and do it against one of the tougher teams in the league — in a 7-5 victory.
You look at the Philly defense corps on that night at Northlands Coliseum and maybe it’s not so much a head-scratcher. Pitted against the 20-year-old phenom were the likes of Behn Wilson, (Dr.) Fred Arthur, Bob Hoffmeyer, Jim Watson, Mark Botell and Glen Cochrane. Brad Marsh is the only standout name on the list.
So, seven defensemen plus starting goaltender Pete Peeters served up seven goals — and 71.4 of them to one Edmonton player.
The assault on the record books is all the more amazing since Gretz had a mere 41 goals in 37 games, then decided to rip the LA Kings four times in a 10-3 home rout of the Kings three nights earlier.
Here’s the CBC call of the game:
That season, the Flyers ended up 38-31-11, in third place behind the Islanders and Rangers in the Patrick Division. Under Pat Quinn and Bob McCammon, they allowed a then-franchise-worst 313 goals.
The Oilers exploded onto the scene, going 48-17-15 and running away with the Smythe Division while becoming the first club in league history to crack the 400-goal mark. They felt the sting of playoff luck, though, losing in the first round in five games to the lowly Kings, who finished 48 points back.