Monday, January 24, 2011

January 24, 1981: The race for 50 in 50

UNIONDALE, N.Y. - For 32 years, no NHL player had come close to Maurice Richard's accomplishment of 50 goals in 50 games. Then, in the 1980-81 season, two players made a serious run at it.

It wasn't too surprising that Mike Bossy of the New York Islanders made a good run at the hallowed mark. He had led the NHL with 69 goals two years before and had scored at least 50 in all three years he played in the NHL. As a player with a reputation as a top scorer, his run at Richard wasn't too much of a shock.

Charlie Simmer of the Los Angeles Kings didn't have the reputation for scoring that Bossy had, though Simmer had led the league in goals in the 1979-80 season. The 56 goals he scored that year were more than he had scored in his previous five seasons combined.

When Bossy and Simmer both got off to hot starts in the 1980-81 season, the talk began about whether either or both would reach the hallowed 50 goals in 50 games mark. Soon, an unofficial competition between the two scorers began to grow as they embarked on a race against each other and against Richard.

One thing that helped the competition was that both the Islanders and the Kings had their 50th game scheduled for the same day: January 24, 1981. That date was the finish line, the deadline for the two snipers to get their hallowed mark.

Entering play on January 24, Bossy had 48 goals and Simmer had 46, so both needed a big day to give Richard company among goal scorers. Simmer's Kings played a game in Boston that day, and he rose to the occasion with a hat trick. But Simmer couldn't find the fourth goal he needed and ended up just short of the mark. Still, as only the second player to score 49 goals in his team's first 50 games, his was still an impressive season.

That left the spotlight on Bossy, whose Islanders were hosting the Quebec Nordiques. For most of the game, the Nordiques kept Bossy in check, leaving him stuck on 48 goals. But in the final five minutes, he broke free, getting his 49th and 50th goals in teh final moments of a 7-4 victory.

Bossy's feat was celebrated around the league, and Richard himself was on hand to congratulate Bossy after the game. Bossy ended up with a league-high 68 goals for the season, his second scoring crown, as the Islanders won their second straight Stanley Cup that spring.

For Bossy, the 50 goals in 50 games was the high point of a brilliant but short career. He reached 50 goals in his first nine seasons in the NHL and is the only NHL player to have nine straight seasons of 50 or more goals. He joins Wayne Gretzky as the only two players to score at least 60 goals in five different seasons. But while Gretzky enjoyed a long enough career to collect every relevant career scoring record in the NHL, Bossy's career only lasted 10 seasons before being derailed by injury. Still, he holds the NHL record for most goals per game - a mark that is helped by the fact that his career wasn't long enough for him to play with depleted skills - and he is still ranked number 19 on the career scoring list.

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