Shortly after Paul Martin’s point shot found its way past Caps goaltender Braden Holtby in Sunday’s 6-3 Pittsburgh win over Washington, Penguins forward Chris Kunitz was announced as the goal scorer. Martin’s shot was clearly deflected, and Kunitz was in the path between Martin and the net. For Kunitz, it was his second goal in as many days after he had gone six games without lighting the lamp.
But before the start of the second period, a scoring change was announced. The official scoring on the goal was changed to give credit for the tally to Martin. Apparently, the official scorers now believed that the initial shot deflected into the net off a Washington defender, and not off Kunitz.
No matter. Kunitz scored later in the game, netting his third of the season at 7:33 of the second to push the Pittsburgh lead to 4-2. Several minutes later, Kunitz scored his second of the game on a Penguins power play to make it a 5-2 game.
With time winding down in the third period and Pittsburgh owning a 5-3 lead, the Caps were trying to climb back into the contest. Instead, they took a pair of simultaneous minor penalties at 18:28 of the third to give the Penguins a 5-on-3.
Kunitz scored a 5-on-3 power play goal at 19:52 to complete the hat trick, the third of his NHL career.
That seemed like the end of the story. But today, the NHL changed that first goal back to Kunitz, making yesterday’s performance a four-goal game, albeit after the fact.
It’s the first four-goal game in the NHL this season.
There were a total of 55 hat tricks scored in the NHL in the league’s 1,230 games last season. Three of those were four-goal games. The last of those was a four-goal, eight-point night by Edmonton’s Sam Gagner on Feb. 2, 2012, almost a year to the day before Kunitz’s four-goal game.
There were 76 hat tricks in 2010-11, with again three players scoring more than three goals. Detroit’s Johan Franzen scored five goals against the Senators in Ottawa on Feb. 2, 2011, exactly a year before Gagner’s big night.
Anyway, four-goal games are relatively rare animals in the NHL. Kunitz became just the seventh player to score more than three goals in a game against Washington in the Capitals’ 38-season history in the NHL.
The first two of those four-goal games came from the late Richard Martin of Buffalo’s celebrated “French Connection” line. Martin hung a four-goal night on the Caps in Washington’s inaugural season of 1974-75 and did it again during the following season.
More than five years later, Quebec’s Peter Stastny scored four goals against the Caps on the same night in which brother Anton scored three in an 11-7 win over Washington.
Longtime Capitals nemesis Mike Bossy notched four goals against the Caps for the Islanders on March 23, 1982.
Philadelphia power forward Tim Kerr became the next to score four against the Caps when he did so on Feb. 9, 1985.
The Penguins’ Mario Lemieux scored four against Washington on April 2, 1988, and Detroit’s Sergei Fedorov became the only player ever to score as many as five goals against the Capitals when he accounted for all of the Red Wings’ offense in a 5-4 overtime win at Detroit on Dec. 26, 1996.
That makes Kunitz just the second man in the last 24 years to score more than three goals in a game against the Capitals, and the only one to do so in a game played in Washington.
On the other side of the coin, the Capitals have had 21 four-goal games during the regular season in their history. Stan Gilbertson authored the first of those late in the team’s maiden season, scoring four against Pittsburgh goaltender Bob Johnson – father of ex-Caps goalie Brent Johnson – on April 6, 1975.
Those who followed Gilbertson in scoring four or more goals in a game for Washington are: Tom Rowe, Dennis Maruk (twice), Mike Gartner (twice), Bobby Carpenter, Chris Valentine, Bengt Gustafsson (five goals), Mike Ridley, Dino Ciccarelli (twice), Peter Bondra (six times; five goals once), Jaroslav Svejkovsky and Alex Ovechkin (twice).
Tomorrow marks the 19th anniversary of the last five-goal game by a Capital. Bondra scored five goals in a 6-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at USAir Arena on Feb. 5, 1994, becoming the only Capital ever to score four goals in a single period.
Bondra tallied four times in the first frame and set club standards that still stand for fastest three goals (2:06), fastest four goals (4:12) and fastest five goals (24:46) by a Capitals player.
Bondra is one of only 11 players in NHL history to score four goals in a single period.