Tugnutt was 23 and in his fourth NHL season with the Nords, who finished with 16 wins and 46 points, fewest in the NHL by a wide margin. They also gave up 354 goals, which was nearly 40 goals more than the next-worst defensive team, the Toronto Maple Leafs (318). Tugnutt lost a league-high 29 games for Quebec, with a 4.05 GAA and a .885 save percentage.
But on March 21, 1991, despite the craptacular team and his own faults, Ron Tugnutt was the best goalie in the world.
The Nordiques were playing at the Boston Bruins, who were a 100-point team that season with three 90-point players. In the first period, they peppered Tugnutt with 17 shots. In the second, the number rose to 19. After he faced 25 shots in the third period, it was apparent Tugnutt was in the midst of a stellar performance between the pipes; when he turned back 12 more in overtime for 70 saves on 73 shots in the 3-3 tie, it was obvious Tugnutt had crafted a classic performance.
His 70 saves and 73 shots faced were both the second-most in NHL history, ranking only behind Chicago Blackhawks keeper Sam LoPresti with 83 shots faced and 80 saves on March 4, 1941 … against the Boston Bruins, no less.
Here's a video remembrance of Tugnutt's remarkable night:
Here's the box score of the game. How did the Bruins react to this marvelous performance?
"It was just one of those nights where I was seeing the puck well," Tugnutt said. "And when I didn't see it, I anticipated the shots well."
"I couldn't believe it," said Boston's Ray Bourque, who took 19 shots, including one from point-blank range that was stopped by Tugnutt with 8 seconds remaining in overtime. "On that last one, I saw all net, nothing but net, and I thought, 'No way he's gonna get this.' I shot it as hard as I could, with a guy in front of him, and he still caught it."
Tugnutt's 16-year NHL career was an odd one. He had a career 3.05 goals against average, yet posted a 1.79 in 43 games for the Ottawa Senators in 1998-99, earning an All-Star game appearance. He was a charter member of both the expansion Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and Atlanta Thrashers Columbus Blue Jackets. He started a playoff game for the Montreal Canadiens during their 1994 playoff appearance because Patrick Roy was out after an appendectomy. He's now an assistant coach with the Peterborough Petes of the OHL.
He was never good enough to earn a consistent starting job, but never bad enough to find himself out of work for long. But for one night 20 years ago, he played so well that his opponents skated over to congratulate him. Here's a condensed version of the game, via NHL Network:
- Ron Tugnutt
- Boston Bruins
- Quebec Nordiques