When Mario Lemieux’s empty-net goal sealed the Penguins’ 8-6 win over New Jersey at the Civic Arena on New Year’s Eve, 1988, nobody realized the true enormity of what happened.
Five goals marked Lemieux’s career high. So did eight points.
But Lemieux had an eight-point game earlier that season. He did it again in a playoff game that spring. He was on his way to 85 goals and 199 points.Besides his three eight-point games, Lemieux had a seven-point game, a six-point game and eight five-point games in 1988-89. That's 77 points in 13 games.The big numbers blurred together.
But, by the next day, it had been figured out. FIVE GOALS, FIVE WAYS: Even-strength, shorthanded, power play, penalty shot, empty net.
First time. Only time. Last time.
It took 24 hours to decipher because nobody had even considered it could happen.
It was Lemieux at the height of his powers. It was named the NHL’s greatest moment of all-time when the league celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017.
Lemieux was one of a kind, especially then. You had to see it live to comprehend it.
He was 6-foot-5 but had the speed and agility of a featured performer in the Ice Capades. He had shake-and-bake like Magic Johnson. He had unparalleled vision. He finished better than anybody ever.
Lemieux was also merciless. He always wanted more. He measured himself by stats and wins. Nobody votes on those.
If Lemieux scored three, he wanted four. If he scored four, he wanted five. If he didn’t get more, he got mad.
For better or worse, Sidney Crosby isn’t like that. Crosby has a vision of how he wants to play. Lemieux’s vision was the scoresheet.