In the summer of 2005, the National Hockey League was in the direst straits a sports league has ever had to navigate. Longstanding issues with player salaries, competitive balance, and the stultifying neutral zone trap culminated in a protracted lockout that would cancel the 2004-05 season—the first time in North American sports history that an entire season never happened.
The NHL needed bold solutions to bring back fans who had lost their love for the game. One was to finally abolish the tie. From 2005 onward, all games would end with a winner thanks to the shootout, a barrage of back-to-back penalty shots that would determine a victor after overtime. Let’s look back on the NHL’s top five greatest shootout goals of all time—a once-controversial addition that has become a highlight of regular-season play.
October 5, 2005: Alfredsson Makes the First Shot
You never forget your first, and the NHL’s came at no less an auspicious place than the home opener for the venerable Toronto Maple Leafs. After the Leafs battled the Senators to a 2-2 tie, we saw the shootout for the first time. Ottawa captain Daniel Alfredsson, shooting first, took off from his own blue line, picked up the puck at center ice, and went glove-side low on Ed Belfour to notch the first shootout goal in NHL history en route to an Ottawa victory. The Toronto faithful remained unimpressed.
December 14, 2011: Kane Walks It In
Chicago Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane is arguably the best player of his generation at slipping contact. Imagine the stick-handling artistry he’s capable of when there’s no contact to slip. Minnesota didn’t have to imagine: Kane slowed the shootout to a crawl, keeping Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom guessing and guessing until he finally guessed wrong. Doc Emrick spoke for millions when he uttered incredulously, “my goodness.”
December 16, 2014: Second Time’s the Charm
Part of what makes shootouts so exciting is that each skater only gets one shot—the Penguins can’t simply trot Sidney Crosby out for each attempt. But if both teams were to exhaust all 18 skaters through 18 rounds, what choice would they have but to take it from the top? This once-hypothetical situation became a reality when the Capitals and Panthers remained tied after 18. In the 20th round, Florida center Nick Bjugstad went glove-side high on Braden Holtby to win the longest shootout in NHL history, sending the few and proud Panther faithful home happy.
March 21, 2006: A Datsyukian Diagonal
History unfolded at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena, including one of the NHL’s greatest shootout goals of all time. As the Predators and Red Wings went beyond overtime, Pavel Datsyuk pulled Tomas Vokoun so far out of his crease that the Russian wonder could shoot from Vokoun’s glove side and still pick the stick-side high corner. Nashville won the game but didn’t make this list.
November 26, 2005: A Freak Malik Occurrence
No list would be complete without this inaugural-season showstopper. The game: Capitals and Rangers, a rivalry dating back to the beloved Patrick Division. The scene: Madison Square Garden, the world’s most famous arena. As the shootout entered its 15th round, Rangers coach Tom Renney called upon defenseman Marek Malik to shoot his shot. Malik, he of 27 goals in 464 games, was an unlikely shooter, but with a between-the-legs trick shot, he came out of nowhere to bring a win to Broadway. It’s a goal that lives on in NHL history—the history that informs the free NHL picks at Vertical23.