Offense is making a comeback in the NHL. Games are finishing with higher scores, as the Calgary Flames and Columbus Blue Jackets displayed in a 15-goal affair a couple of years ago. The average of goals per game has gone up over the last few seasons, and the number of 100-point scorers each season has increased, too.
With teams becoming savvier and finding better ways to create shots and scoring chances, it doesn’t seem like goal-scoring is going away any time soon. So we figured it’d be a good time to go back and look at the 10 highest-scoring games of the modern NHL (1967-present).
Toronto Maple Leafs (10) vs. Chicago Black Hawks (8) — Feb. 20, 1977
For a game that ended up with 18 goals, it took some time for things to get going. Stan Mikita scored the first goal of the game eight minutes into the first period, and the two teams would finish with a combined five goals in the first twenty minutes.
It would be much of the same in the second period before the goals came in bunches in the final frame. Half of the 18 goals scored came in the third period, with five coming from the Maple Leafs and four from the Blackhawks. Errol Thompson finished with a hat trick for the Leafs, while defenseman Ian Turnbull finished the game with five points. This game would hold the title of the highest-scoring NHL game in the modern era until 1981.
Quebec City Nordiques (11) vs. Washington Capitals (7) — Feb. 22, 1981
In a season where not much went right for either team, this was one of the highlights for each. This contest featured some big performances from Peter and Anton Stastny, with each player finishing with eight points. Anton recorded a hat trick and five assists, while Peter finished with four goals and four assists. While an eight-point game has happened 16 times in the NHL, the Stastny brothers remain the only two to do it in the same game.
Of the 18 goals scored, 15 of them came during the second and third periods. And as you may have guessed, tempers flared during the scoring outburst. This game came with a total of 182 penalty minutes, with 158 of those coming in the second period, and a final total of 11 ten-minute misconducts.
Buffalo Sabres (14) vs. Toronto Maple Leafs (4) — March 19, 1981
Based on the first period, you wouldn’t have guessed the Sabres were en route for a 14-goal performance, as John Van Boxmeer scored the lone goal of the opening frame. But things opened up in the second, with the Sabres scoring nine goals. Gilbert Perreault had a hat trick, while Andre Savard scored two and eventually finished with a hat trick of his own along with six points.
Michel Laroque was the goaltender of record for the Maple Leafs. He was pulled to start the third period but gave up ten goals on 27 shots through 40 minutes. Jiri Crha relieved Laroque during the third period and faced 22 shots, giving up goals on four of them, which put the icing on what was an abysmal performance by the Leafs.
Blackhawks (8) vs. Maple Leafs (10) — Oct. 15, 1983
The second time these two teams met up in a contest totaling 18 goals, with the Leafs coming out on top once again. The scoring got off to a fast start in this one. The Leafs scored four goals in the first period, including one by Jim Benning, who you may know as the Vancouver Canucks’ current general manager (GM).
Related: 1967 NHL Expansion
Things would open up in the second period, as the teams combined for eight goals. Blackhawks’ legend Denis Savard potted two goals to complete a hat trick, while Doug Wilson, who you may know as the San Jose Sharks’ GM, added a goal and assist. The Blackhawks managed to cut a 7-3 Leafs’ lead to 7-6. But a late second-period goal by the Maple Leafs, followed by one early in the third, would prove to be enough to seal the Blackhawks’ fate.
Winnipeg Jets (8) at Detroit Red Wings (10) — Nov. 25, 1987
This was a showdown that featured plenty of familiar names. The two teams combined for eight goals in the first two frames. But the floodgates opened in the third period, with the Red Wings scoring six straight goals, at one point, to take a 9-6 lead over the Jets. Five players finished with three points for the Red Wings, including Adam Oates. Gerard Gallant, the former head coach of the Vegas Golden Knights, tallied a goal and assist for the Red Wings, as well.
Although Paul Maclean, who you may remember from his stint as the Ottawa Senators’ head coach, had a hat trick and five points, that wasn’t enough to overcome the Red Wings’ scoring depth. NHL great Dale Hawerchuk finished the night with four assists for the Jets, while both teams combined for 50 penalty minutes.
Sharks (10) at Pittsburgh Penguins (8) — Jan. 13, 1996
Following the 1994-95 lockout, offense in the NHL died a horrible death, with the average goals per game falling to 5.19 by 1998-99, down from 7.16 in the late 1980s (From ‘Scoring in the N.H.L. Goes South for the Winter,’ New York Times – Dec. 2006). But that doesn’t mean it didn’t go without a bang, as the Sharks and Penguins put on a show for everyone to see.
This contest between the two teams remains the highest-scoring NHL game since the 1994-95 lockout and featured plenty of star power. Petr Nedved, Mario Lemieux, and Tomas Sandstrom each had two goals for the Penguins, while Ron Francis finished with three assists. For the Sharks, Ray Whitney and Owen Nolan finished with three points, while Ray Sheppard had a hat trick. The Sharks also potted half of their goals in the third period, outscoring the Penguins 5-2 in the final 20 minutes to seal the victory over one of the best teams in the league.
Minnesota North Stars (9) vs. Vancouver Canucks (10) — Oct. 7, 1983
This was a pretty back-and-forth affair between the two teams. The North Stars scored the first two goals, from Brian Bellows and Craig Hartsburg. But the Canucks answered back, knotting the game at three before Dino Ciccarelli scored the go-ahead goal for the North Stars heading into the first intermission.
The North Stars would open up their lead to 6-3 in the second period. However, the Canucks scored the next three to bring the game to a 6-6 deadlock. The two sides would trade goals and were tied at 9-9 with five minutes left in the regulation when Patrik Sundstrom put in the game-winning goal. That capped a thrilling game that saw the Canucks go on to score seven of the game’s final 10 goals.
North Stars (8) vs. Edmonton Oilers (12) — Jan. 4, 1984
Wayne Gretzky had plenty of great performances, but this one goes down as one of his best. He led the way for the Oilers, with eight points (four goals, four assists). Gretzky was the first Oiler to accomplish this feat, with Sam Gagner being the third Oiler (Gretzky, Paul Coffey) and most recent NHL player to pull it off back in 2012.
Mark Messier had himself a night, too, as he finished with six assists, while Jari Kurri had a hat trick. That was too much to overcome for the North Stars, who couldn’t match the firepower the Oilers had behind Gretzky, Messier, and Coffey. This is also one of only three NHL games to ever finish with a total of 20 or more goals.
Oilers (9) vs. Maple Leafs (11) — Jan. 8, 1986
The Oilers hadn’t experienced many losses to this point in the season, as they had a 29-7-4 record. The Leafs, on the other hand, were well below .500 and had only won 10 games, so an 11-goal outburst came as a bit of a surprise. They got the scoring started, with Russ Courtnall scoring the first two goals, followed by one from Miroslav Frycer to give them a 3-0 lead. Gretzky would answer back, but the Leafs ended up taking a 5-1 lead into the first intermission.
However, the Oilers did not go down without a fight. They scored five second-period goals, including two from Gretzky, who had a hat trick. But the Leafs seemed to have a response for everything. Frycer had a hat trick in the third period to cap off a four-goal performance. And that ended up being enough to overcome a six-point effort by Gretzky.
Oilers (12) vs. Blackhawks (9) — Dec. 11, 1985
The highest-scoring game of the modern NHL era and it wasn’t particularly close. The Oilers scored the first six goals of the game before Denis Savard got the Blackhawks on the board in the second period. They’d fight back and get within two goals, but the Oilers’ offensive depth was well too much to handle.
Jari Kurri finished with a hat trick, as did Glenn Anderson, as they combined for six of the Oilers’ 12 goals. There was no eight-point night for Gretzky, but he still finished with seven points (seven assists). Savard, Steve Larmer, and Al Secord had a rough outing, as they each finished the night with a minus-7 rating. Even with offense making a roaring comeback in the NHL, this is a game that may forever hold its place in the NHL record books.
Alex Chauvancy is a New Jersey Devils writer for The Hockey Writers who has a penchant for advanced stats, prospects, signings and trades. He previously wrote for Devils Army Blog, a New Jersey Devils fan blog, from 2015-2017