The Great One at 50: Top Gretzky moments

We're celebrating Wayne Gretzky's 50th birthday today with a look back at some of the top moments from his historic NHL career (courtesy of ESPN's Stats and Information group):

Oct. 14, 1979

Gretzky scored his first NHL goal, beating Vancouver Canucks goalie Glen Hanlon.

Dec. 30, 1981

Gretzky scored five times against the Philadelphia Flyers to reach 50 goals in just 39 games, the fastest player to the mark in NHL history. The fifth tally was an empty-net goal.

Feb. 24, 1982

He broke the single-season goals record, scoring No. 77 in the third period against the Buffalo Sabres. He would score two more goals in the game for the hat trick. Gretzky finished the season with 92 goals.

May 19, 1984

Gretzky and the Oilers beat the New York Islanders 5-2 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup finals to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup and snap the Islanders’ four-Cup streak. Gretzky won three more Cups, all with Edmonton.

Sept. 15, 1987

With 1:26 left in the third period of the Canada Cup’s decisive Game 3, Gretzky fed a pass to Mario Lemieux, who scored to break a tie at 5 and help Canada beat Russia. It is one of the most memorable plays in hockey history.

Aug. 9, 1988

The Oilers traded Wayne Gretzky, Mike Krushelnyski and Marty McSorley to the Los Angeles Kings for Jimmy Carson, Martin Gelinas and first-round draft picks in 1989, 1991 and 1993. This came after a season when Gretzky scored 149 points and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Oct. 20, 1988

He returned to Edmonton for the first time with his new team, the Kings, and scored a goal on his first shift.

April 15, 1989

Gretzky and the Kings won Game 7 of their Smythe Division semifinals series with a 6-3 victory, knocking out the defending champion Oilers, The Great One’s former team.

Oct. 15, 1989

In a game against the Oilers, Gretzky passed Gordie Howe for the most points in NHL history, scoring on a backhand to beat goalie Bill Ranford for his 1,851st career point.

May 27, 1993

He scored in overtime of Game 6 of the 1993 Campbell Conference finals against the Toronto Maple Leafs to force a seventh game.

May 29, 1993

He followed his clutch Game 6 performance by scoring a hat trick (the last goal was a bank shot from behind the net off Leafs defenseman Dave Ellett's skate) to send coach Barry Melrose and the Kings to their first Stanley Cup finals appearance.

March 20, 1994

Gretzky scored two goals, the second coming with 49 seconds left in the third period, to tie him with Howe for the most goals in NHL history (801).

March 23, 1994

In the Kings’ next game, Gretzky passed Howe for No. 802. Gretzky got a feed from McSorley and beat Vancouver Canucks goalie Kirk McLean.

April 23, 1997

In Game 4 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals, Gretzky scored a natural hat trick in a 6:23 span to help the Rangers beat the Panthers 3-2. New York wrapped up the series in Game 5.

April 18, 1999

The final game of his career came with the Rangers. He tallied an assist in a 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mario Lemieux and Mark Messier were both in attendance. Gretzky finished his career with 894 goals, 1,963 assists and 2,857 points – all NHL records.