The NHL has a long history of fights breaking out, but some stand out from all the rest. From punches thrown before the game even started to fans getting involved in the action, these brawls take the cake.
Keep reading to find out which NHL hockey fights made the cut in our rankings.
1. Boston Bruins v. New York Rangers (1979)
When you think of NHL hockey fights, you probably imagine only the players going at it with each other. However, this wasn’t the case for the fight that earned our number one spot!
It was December 23rd, 1979, at Madison Square Garden, and the Bruins were up by one point. The entire game had been pretty close, and tensions were rising as a result.
At last, the final buzzer sounded, indicating that the Bruins had won. However, the game wasn’t over, at least to the players!
On the way back to their locker rooms, Bruins player Al Secord punched Rangers player Ulf Nilsson. Secord claimed that the punch was payback for Ulf taking a shot at him in the middle of the game.
As the fight escalated between the two teams, a Rangers fan stuck his hand over the glass barrier that separated fans from the ice. The fan started hitting Bruins player Stan Jonathan with a rolled program and even grabbed Jonathan’s stick.
Another Bruin, Terry O’Reilly, noticed the stolen stick and decided to scale the barrier so that he could ambush the fan who had taken it.
Only a few minutes later, eighteen of O’Reilly’s teammates had also gotten over the barrier and were fighting with Rangers fans in the stands.
A couple of Bruins players went after the original instigator, and player Mike Milbury eventually grabbed him and took him to the ground. In a final act of war, Milbury snatched the fan’s shoe and chucked it onto the ice.
Regardless of who you think was in the wrong, we can all agree that this NHL hockey fight is one for the history books!
2. Ottawa Senators v. Philadelphia Flyers (2004)
Coming in at number two on our list of the most epic NHL hockey fights is this March 5, 2004, game at the Wachovia Center between the Senators and the Flyers.
A couple of weeks before this game, the teams had played each other and were involved in a small fight, but nothing major. However, many people think that it ignited the tensions that eventually led to this fight.
The first two periods were fairly uneventful, but the mood had soured by the third period.
As the game neared the end, Flyers player Donald Brashear and Senators player Rob Ray got sent to the penalty box together as the result of a heated fistfight.
On their way over to the penalty box, Brashear punched Senators player Brian Pothier basically out of nowhere! This set everyone off, and players from both teams started going at each other.
In all, this brawl set the new record for the largest amount of penalty minutes ever awarded in a single NHL game, coming in at 419 minutes.
The penalties were so massive that many players couldn’t tell which of them had been permanently ejected from the game and which of them could finish out the last two minutes of the period on the ice.
Ultimately, officials tried to get the game up and running again, but they had to stop and restart things two more times due to fighting.
3. Philadelphia Flyers v. Montreal Canadiens (1987)
On May 14, 1987, in Montreal, the Flyers and the Canadiens took part in one of the most massive NHL hockey fights before the game even started!
It was the sixth game of the semifinals, and Canadiens player Claude Lemieux went on the ice before the game to shoot some pucks into the Flyers’ net.
The Flyers had told Lemieux not to do it, but he did it anyway, making the situation pretty strained. The arena’s organist even added to these bad vibes, playing the song “Final Countdown” as Lemieux finished his warmup.
Suddenly, players started rushing out of the dressing rooms, and a brawl began on the ice.
Because it was before the game, there weren’t any referees or officials around, which made it one of the most brutal NHL hockey fights.
The worst part is that even after all this, the players still had to get on the ice and play an entire game against each other!
This brawl led to significant changes in NHL policy that harshly penalized players who leave the bench to join fights.
4. Boston Bruins v. Minnesota North Stars (1981)
Earning fourth place in our line-up of the craziest NHL hockey fights is the February 26, 1981, game at Boston Garden between the Bruins and the North Stars.
Going into this game, the North Stars were coming off of a 34-game losing streak and were set on winning this time.
Not even ten seconds into the first period, though, two Bruins players got into a shoving match with two players from the North Stars. This event kicked off one of the most epic NHL hockey fights rather than one of the most epic NHL hockey wins!
The situation quickly escalated, and other players joined in, leaving the game at a standstill. Due to all the fighting, it even took over an hour and a half to get through the first period of the game.
Ultimately, 12 players were ejected from the game because of this fight.
Even though the North Stars didn’t break their losing streak, they did help win the award for the greatest number of penalty minutes ever given in an NHL game at the time. This record remained until the 2004 Senators v. Flyers fight surpassed it.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins v. New York Islanders (2011)
The February 11, 2011, game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum between the Penguins and the Islanders is last but certainly not least in our rankings of the most significant NHL hockey fights.
Like a few other fights on this list, the aggression between these two teams was built upon a disagreement from another recent game.
Nine days before this fight, the Penguins and Islanders played each other in a game that resulted in a handful of serious injuries, including one concussion. It was rumored that Islanders players were itching to get back at the Penguins for causing their teammate’s concussion.
By the beginning of the second period, the Islanders were in the lead by six points, and the Penguins were ready for some payback. From there, a series of pretty bad fights broke out, and six players were ejected from the game.
The third period saw similar levels of antagonism, with players constantly going at each other and then taunting each other from the bench or dressing room entrance once they were removed.
By the time the game ended, there were 65 penalties and 346 penalty minutes. Three players also got suspended, and the NHL slapped the Islanders with a hefty fine of $100,000 for failing to prevent one of the biggest NHL hockey fights in franchise history.
Ranking the Wildest NHL Hockey Fights
Over the years, there have been some truly out-of-control NHL hockey fights, and our round-up is just a start! Whether you’re an experienced hockey fan or new to the game, hopefully, this article gave you a taste of some of the most epic fights in NHL history.
Still want more hockey content? Then check out our hockey page for training guides, equipment rankings, and fun facts about our favorite sport!
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Born in Madelia, MN, to a now 5-generation Minnesota family, Ryan’s MN roots go deep.
A painter by day, Ryan founded Life in Minnesota in 2013 with his wife Kelly to chronicle their musings on everything Minnesota. Ryan and Kelly are raising their 7 kiddos in Maple Grove, MN.
When he’s not shuttling his kids around to hockey practice, you might find him in the shop working on his leatherwork. Undoubtedly, there will be a family trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area every summer, and of course weekends at Grandpa’s cabin up north in the summer.