April 6 has had its fair share of historical moments. One of the National Hockey League’s biggest legends scored his final goal in his last regular-season game. Another legend had the greatest season in the history of the game. The Hockey Hall of Fame is full of the names who had big moments on this date.
Howe’s Final Shift
Gordie Howe played his 1,767th and final NHL regular-season game on April 6, 1980, appropriately, against the Detroit Red Wings. In closing out the Hartford Whalers’ first season in the NHL, a 52-year-old Howe scored his 801st career goal in their 5-3 win over the team he played 25 seasons for.
He also picked up the final assist of his career with an assist on Ray Allison’s goal in the first period. Gordie Roberts, who was born in the Detroit-area and was named after Howe, had an assist on Mr. Hockey’s final goal.
Howe’s final NHL goal came against goaltender Rogie Vachon, who made his NHL debut against Howe and the Red Wings in 1967 when he was a member of the Montreal Canadiens. Vachon’s first career save in the league came by stopping Howe on an early-game breakaway.
The Whalers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs to extend Howe’s extraordinary career for three more games as they were swept in a preliminary round by the Canadiens. He finished his career after 32 professional seasons (26 in the NHL and 6 in the World Hockey Association) with 975 goals and 2,358 points in 2.186 games. He had 96 goals and 231 points in 235 career playoff games between both leagues.
Potvin’s Big Date
Hall of Fame defenseman Denis Potvin broke two records on this date during his career. On April 6, 1974, he finished off his tremendous rookie season by scoring a goal and adding three assists in the New York Islanders’ 4-2 win in their regular-season finale against the Minnesota North Stars.
Potvin finished the season with 17 goals, 54 assists and 71 points; all records by a first-year defenseman. After the season, he is awarded the Calder Trophy for being the NHL’s top rookie for the 1973-74 season.
Exactly 14 years later, Potvin takes the ice for the Islanders’ opening game of the Patrick Division Semifinals against the New Jersey Devils. It is his 181st career Stanley Cup playoff game, the most in NHL history. He broke the previous record held by Henri Richard of the Canadiens.
Potvin would play in four more playoff games and retired with 185 under his belt. In the last 32 years, 27 players have passed his old record as the playoffs have been expanded to four rounds of best-of-seven matchups.
1985-86 Goes Out with a Bang
Wayne Gretzky closed out the best season of his remarkable career on April 6, 1986. He picked up an assist in the Edmonton Oilers’ 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He goes on to win his sixth straight Art Ross Trophy for leading the league in scoring as he broke his own scoring records with 163 assists and 215 points.
In that same game, Jari Kurri scored the 300th goal of this career. He went on to score another 301 goals before retiring and is one of just 20 players in the history of the NHL to score at least 600 goals.
Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Brian Propp scored three goals and added two assists in the Flyers’ 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals. The win gave the Flyers their third division title in four seasons and the huge game gave Propp 600 points in his career. He retired with 849 points in a Flyers uniform, the third-most in franchise history.
Odds & Ends
On April 6, 1945, Frank McCool of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Red Wings’ Harry Lumley become the first pair of rookie goaltenders to face each other in a Stanley Cup playoff game. McCool picks up his first of three consecutive shutouts with a 1-0 win.
Johnny Bower became the oldest goaltender to play in the postseason on April 6, 1969. At 44 years, 4 months and 28 days, Bower is between the pipes for the Maple Leafs’ 3-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.
The Chicago Blackhawks made plenty of history on April 6, 1975. They won their 1,200th NHL game as Tony Esposito shut out the North Stars 3-0 at the old Chicago Stadium. It was also the 500th career victory for head coach Billy Reay, who became just the third NHL coach to reach the 500-win milestone
On April 6, 1978, Bernie Parent recorded his 50th NHL career shutout in the Flyers’ 3-0 win over the visiting New York Rangers. Parent became the 16th goalie in NHL history to record 50 career shutouts. He finished his career with 54 shutouts, which ranks him 23rd on the all-time list.
Keith Tkachuk scored his 50th goal of the season, on April 6, 1997, in a 2-1 Phoenix Coyotes loss at the Colorado Avalanche. It was his second straight 50-goal season, and he became the first, and still only, Coyote to score 50 goals in a season.
On April 6, 2002, Mats Sundin scored the 395th goal of his career in the Maple Leafs’ 2-2 tie with the Florida Panthers. The goal made him the all-time leader among Swedish-born NHL players, breaking the previous record held by Tomas Sandstrom. He still holds the record with 564 career goals, 120 more than any other fellow countryman.
One year later, Sergei Fedorov scores against the Blackhawks to become just the fourth player in Red Wings’ franchise history to score 400 goals. It is his final goal with the team. He remains with Howe (786), Steve Yzerman (692) and Alex Delvecchio (456) as the only players in Detroit’s long and storied history to score at least 400 goals.
Happy Birthday to You
31 players who have skated in the NHL are celebrating birthdays today. Among the most notable players are Gerald Diduck (55), Olaf Kolzig (50), Hal Gill (45), Travis Moen (38), Clarke MacArthur (35) and Pavel Zacha (23).