Today in Hockey History: Dec. 31

As we get ready to say goodbye to the year and welcome in new beginnings, we will take our daily look back at National Hockey League history. One of the greatest players to ever lace up a pair of skates loved playing on this date during his amazing career. Additionally, a historic game was played in Montreal, Alex Ovechkin broke another long-standing record, and some glory days were lived out in Buffalo.

Lemieux Loves New Year’s Eve

There was something about playing on the final day of the year that brought out the best in Mario Lemieux. He had three huge performances on this date, including a night that nobody had ever seen before.

Lemieux’s reign of terror on New Year’s Eve started in 1985 when he scored his first career hat trick. He was the star in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 8-4 win at the St. Louis Blues. He scored four goals and assisted on two others for his first six-point game.

Three years later, on Dec. 31, 1988, he made NHL history in an 8-6 victory over the visiting New Jersey Devils. Lemieux became the first player to score five goals in five different ways in the same game. He finished his historic night by scoring at even strength, on the power play, shorthanded, on a penalty shot, and into an empty net. He accounted for all Pittsburgh goals this night as he assisted on the three he didn’t score to finish with eight points.

Finally, on Dec. 31, 1992, Lemieux scored a goal and added an assist in the Penguins’ 3-3 tie with the Toronto Maple Leafs. This gave him 100 points in his 38th game of the season; the second-fastest he ever reached 100 points in his career and the fourth-fastest in NHL history. He finished the 1992-93 season with 160 points, the fourth-best output of his career.

Canadiens Draw with the Russians

Three days after beating the New York Rangers in their first game in North America, the Soviet Red Army team headed to Montreal on Dec. 31, 1975, to take on the Canadiens in what some consider the greatest hockey game ever played.

Steve Shutt and Yvon Lambert scored to build a 2-0 lead for the Habs heading into the first intermission. Boris Mikhailov got the Red Army on the scoreboard with a goal on the first shot of the second period. Yvan Cournoyer got the goal back a few minutes later to re-established Montreal’s two-goal lead.

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The Soviets fought back with a late second-period goal by Valeri Kharlamov and another early in the third period by Boris Alexandrov to tie the game. Russian goaltending legend Vladislav Tretiak was the hero of the night as he stopped all 16 shots he faced in the third period. The Canadiens finished the game with a 38-13 shot advantage.

A Great Date for Goaltenders

Canadiens goaltending legend Georges Vezina played the first of 367 consecutive regular-season and playoff games on Dec. 31. 1901, when they lost their NHA season opener, 5-3, to the visiting Ottawa Senators. He went on to play every game for Montreal over the next 15 seasons.

Speaking of streaks, on Dec. 31, 1975, Michel Plasse ran his personal undefeated streak to 18 (14-0-4) games at the Civic Arena in a 5-1 Penguins win over the Los Angeles Kings. Bob Kelly had two goals and two assists to lead the scoring.

This same night, current Vancouver Canucks president, Jim Rutherford, made 23 saves to lead the Detroit Red Wings to a 4-0 win over the Washington Capitals. This was the first of three straight shutouts.

Rutherford patrolled the crease before heading to the front office. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)

Tom Barrasso came up with 36 saves on Dec. 31, 1990, to tie a team record with his seventh consecutive victory, as the Penguins beat the St. Louis Blues 4-3. Mark Recchi scored a pair of goals, including the game-winner late in the third period.

On Dec. 31, 1992, the Canucks extended their team-record home undefeated streak to 15 straight games (13-0-2) with a 4-0 win over the Kings. Kirk McLean recorded his 12th shutout with the Canucks, a new team record, beating the previous mark set by Gary Smith.

Jeff Hackett made 29 saves on Dec. 31, 1995, to lead the Chicago Blackhawks to a 5-0 win over the Devils. This was his eighth straight win, tying a team record originally set by Hall of Famer Tony Esposito.

Sabres Rule the Day

Much like Lemieux, the Buffalo Sabres enjoyed when Dec. 31 came up on the calendar, especially during the 1990s.

Starting on Dec. 31, 1992, the Sabres beat the Rangers 11-6. Alexander Mogilny scored his fourth hat trick of the season and sixth of his career while tacking on a pair of assists. Pat LaFontaine had five helpers on the evening. In the third period, Yuri Khmylev had three goals for his first career hat trick as Buffalo began a six-game winning streak.

Alexander Mogilny
Mogilny had a six-point game on this date in 1992. (photo courtesy of

Goaltender Dominik Hasek was very busy on Dec. 31, 1993, in the Sabres’ 4-1 win over the Rangers. In the middle frame, he had to make 21 of his 39 saves on the night. Donald Audette and Brad May each had a goal and assist to pace the offense, while Derek Plante had a pair of helpers.

Four years later, Hasek stopped 36 shots for his 27th career shutout, in a 3-0 blanking of the visiting Senators. He became the first NHL goaltender since George Hainsworth in 1928-29 to record six shutouts in one month.

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On this date in 1993, Maxim Afinogenov and Miroslav Satan scored their first and fifth career hat tricks, respectively, in a 7-1 whitewashing of the Capitals. This was the first game since 1982 that saw two Sabres score three goals in the same contest.

Odds & Ends

Maurice Richard scored the 3,000th goal in Canadiens’ franchise history on Dec. 31, 1955, and added two assists in a 7-3 win over the visiting Blackhawks.

Bob Probert scored his first career hat trick on Dec. 31, 1987, and added an assist in the Red Wings’ 7-2 victory over the Blues. Steve Yzerman also had a four-point night with a goal and three assists.

Brian Leetch set a Rangers’ team record on Dec. 31, 1992, with a point in his 17th consecutive game during a 5-2 win at the Winnipeg Jets. The Hall of Fame defenseman had five goals and 27 assists during the 17-game streak, which broke the old team record of 16 set by Mike Rogers during the 1981-82 season.

Brian Leetch New York Rangers
Leetch was the best Rangers blueliner of all time. (Wikipedia)

That night, Brad Marsh became the 72nd player in NHL history to appear in 1,000 career games during the Red Wings’ 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins.

Al Arbour became the losingest coach in NHL history on Dec. 31, 1992, when the New York Islanders lost 5-1 in St. Louis. It was his 522nd career NHL loss, moving him one past Dick Irvin. However, he had nothing to be ashamed about as he still had an all-time record of 721-522-233.

Theo Fleury picked up his 400th career assist on Dec. 31, 1997, in the Calgary Flames’ 3-2 loss to the visiting Canadiens.

One year later, on Dec. 31, 1998, John LeClair became the 11th player in team history to score 200 goals as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. He also added two assists in a 6-2 victory at the Canucks.

Brett Hull scored two goals on Dec. 31, 1999, including the 600th of his career, and added an assist as the Dallas Stars defeated the visiting Mighty Ducks of Anaheim 5-4. Guy Carbonneau recorded his 400th career assist, and Sergei Zubov had two helpers while playing in his 500th NHL game.

William Karlsson scored the first hat trick in Vegas Golden Knights’ history on Dec. 31, 2017, in their 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs. He added an assist for a four-point night in the team’s seventh straight win. They finished December with an 11-1-1 record, the most wins by an expansion team in a single month.

William Karlsson
Karlsson scored the first hat trick in Golden Knights history. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

In Calgary, on the same night, Jaromir Jagr skated in his final NHL game. He did not find the scoresheet in the Flames’ 4-3 overtime win against the Blackhawks. He played in 1,733 career games with nine different teams. Only Patrick Marleau (1,779), Gordie Howe (1,767), and Mark Messier (1,756) appeared in more.

Ovechkin broke the NHL record for power play goals on Dec. 31, 2021, when he faced off against the Red Wings in what ended up as a 3-1 win for the Capitals. At the time it was his 275th, breaking the tie with Dave Andreychuk.

Happy Birthday to You

A talented group of 20 current and former NHL players were born on New Year’s Eve. The best of the bunch include Rene Robert (74), Terry Ruskowski (68), Gary McAdam (67), Paul Gillis (59), Scott Nichol (48), Corey Crawford (38), Brandon Tanev (31), Gerald Mayhew (30), Josiah Slavin (24), and the late Hall of Famer Charlie Gardiner.

*Originally constructed by Greg Boysen