One of the top offensive stars in the history of the National Hockey League was born on this date and celebrated in style three different times. Feb. 20 came up huge in both 1971 and 1982, while numerous members of the Hockey Hall of Fame grabbed the spotlight. Let’s take our daily trip back in time to relive all the best moments this date has had to offer.
NHL Legend Phil Esposito Celebrates His Birthday….Three Times
NHL Legend Phil Esposito – ESPO was born on Feb. 20, 1942, in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He loved playing on his birthday, especially in the early 1970s.
On Feb. 20, 1971, his 29th birthday, Esposito became just the fourth player in league history to score 50 goals in a season. His goal in a 5-4 loss at the Los Angeles Kings put him in very rare air as only Maurice Richard, Bernie Geoffrion and Bobby Hull had 50-goal seasons prior to this.
One year later, Esposito turned 30 with two goals to score 50 goals in back-to-back seasons. He also had an assist in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the team he started his NHL career with.
Scoring his 50th goal of the season on his birthday started to become a tradition. On Feb. 20, 1974, he scored his 22nd career hat trick to become the first player to ever have at least 50 goals in four straight seasons. His three goals helped the Bruins earn a point in a 5-5 tie with the Minnesota North Stars.
More History in 1971
Esposito’s 50th goal was far from the only big moment to happen on Feb. 20, 1971. In that same, Bruins defenseman Bobby Orr picked up an assist for his 100th point of the season. He became just the second player in NHL history to have two 100-point seasons, joining Esposito who accomplished this feat two weeks earlier.
In Montreal, Jean Beliveau had three assists in the Canadiens’ 7-1 win over the Blackhawks to become just the second player to score 1,200 career points. Peter Mahovlich had a pair of goals just five seconds apart while Phil Roberto scored his first NHL hat trick.
The player who was the first to score 1,200 points, Gordie Howe, scored a goal and added three assists to reach 1,800 points in his career. The milestone came in his 1,670th game, a Detroit Red Wings’ 6-5 win at the Buffalo Sabres.
Finally, Jacques Plante became just the third goaltender in league history to win 400 career games when he led the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues. Dave Keon was the offensive hero with two goals. This milestone came on the 27th anniversary of Plante’s first career shutout, which he earned with the Canadiens, on Feb. 20, 1954, by blanking the Red Wings 2-0.
A Big Night in 1982
Feb. 20, 1982, was not quite as historic as the date was 11 years earlier, but it still had some pretty significant moments.
Starting in Long Island, where the New York Islanders beat the Colorado Rockies for their NHL-record 15th straight win. John Tonelli scored the game-winning goal against former Islanders’ goaltender Glenn Resch to extend the streak. They broke the previous record of 14 wins in a row set by the 1929-30 Bruins. The most impressive stat during this record-setting stretch was that the Islanders averaged 6.5 goals per game during the 15 games.
Also, Dennis Maruak scored a goal, in a 7-3 loss to the North Stars, to become the first player to 100 points in a season for the Washington Capitals. This was the only 100-point season of his career.
Finally, in Los Angeles, rookie Bernie Nicholls recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Doug Smith’s goal as the Kings beat the visiting Calgary Flames 6-2. This was the first of 1,209 career points in 1,127 for Nicholls and yet, somehow, he isn’t in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
On the Way to the Hall of Fame
Harry Lumley became the first goaltender to record 25 shutouts with the Red Wings, on Feb. 20, 1950, as he won 2-0 over the visiting Canadiens. Red Kelly led the scoring with a goal and an assist.
Bobby Clarke picked up four assists, on Feb. 20, 1973, to help the Philadelphia Flyers beat the Blues 5-3. The four points gave him 83 on the season, the most ever, at the time, by a player from one of the six expansion teams who joined the league in 1967.
Rookie brothers Anton and Peter Stastny led the way, on Feb. 20, 1981, as the Quebec Nordiques rolled over the Vancouver Canucks 9-3. They had identical six-point nights by scoring a hat trick and added three assists.
Martin Brodeur extended his team-record unbeaten streak to 14 straight games (8-0-6), on Feb. 20, 1997, with the New Jersey Devils 2-2 tie with Florida Panthers. His streak ended with a 3-1 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning, two nights later.
On that same night, Adam Oates had an assist to extend his point streak to 20 games in the Bruins 5-3 loss at the Blackhawks. He had seven goals and 28 points during his 20-game scoring streak.
Jaromir Jagr scored a pair of goals, on Feb. 20, 2016, to lead the Panthers to a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets. This gave him 742 goals in his remarkable career and moved him ahead of Brett Hull for third place on the NHL’s all-time goals list.
Odds & Ends
The Maple Leafs and Blackhawks played the NHL’s first-ever “perfect game, on this date in 1944. Goaltenders Paul Bibeault and Mike Karakas battled to a scoreless tie while no penalties were called during the game.
Tony Granato scored his 33rd and 34th goals of the season, on Feb. 20, 1989, to lead the New York Rangers past the Devils 7-4. This set a new Rangers’ rookie-record for goals in a season as he broke the previous high-mark set by Mark Pavelich during the 1981-82 season.
On that same night, Geoff Courtnall scored, in a 6-2 loss at the Calgary Flames, to become the first left wing in Capitals’ history to score 30 goals in a season.
Eddie Olczyk became the 10th U.S.-born player to score 600 career points, on Feb. 20, 1993, with an assist in the Rangers’ 6-4 over the San Jose Sharks.
The Maple Leafs hosted the Canadiens, on Feb. 20, 1999, in the first NHL game played at the Air Canada Centre. Todd Warriner scored the first goal in the new arena, with Derek King, who scored the final game at Maple Leaf Gardens, picking up an assist. Steve Thomas scored in overtime to give Toronto a 3-2 win.
Sergei Zubov became the first Russian-born defenseman to score 600 NHL points, on Feb. 20, 2004, with two assists in the Dallas Stars’ 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
Happy Birthday to You
In addition to Esposito, there are 26 current and former NHL players who were born on this date. The most notable among them are Pierre Bouchard (73), Rick Green (65), Glen Hanlon (64), Christian Ruuttu (57), Brent Gretzky (49), Brendan Witt (46), Niclas Wallin (46), Dave Scatchard (45), Ben Lovejoy (37), Martin Hanzal (34), Jaren Tinordi (29), Jake Walman (25) and Maxim Letunov (25).
Greg Boysen has been writing about the Chicago Blackhawks since 2010 and has been a site manager for both FanSided and SB Nation. He has been published in The Hockey News and was fully credentialed for the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. Among his various roles with The Hockey Writers are covering the Blackhawks, the AHL, writing the daily “Today in Hockey History” column, serving as a copy editor, and appearing and hosting multiple YouTube shows, including Blackhawks Banter. He is credentialed with the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, and Milwaukee Admirals, while also being a regional scout for the NAHL. And, just because his plate isn’t full enough, Greg hosts trivia in the Chicago area two nights a week. For interview requests or to provide topic suggestions, follow Greg on Twitter and reach out.