Originally created 10/25/98

Messier reaches milestone



SUNRISE, Fla. -- Though it lacked the drama of some of his playoff heroics, Mark Messier's 600th NHL goal showed his flair for coming through in the clutch.

With only two games to reach the milestone in front of his family, the Vancouver captain did it on the first opportunity Friday night by putting the finishing stroke on the Canucks' 5-0 win over the Florida Panthers.

Messier one-timed a pass from behind the net by Alexander Mogilny between the left post and Kirk McLean at 12:58 of the third period, becoming only the 10th player in history to reach 600.

"Obviously, the goal was going to come," said Messier, a member of six Stanley Cup champions. "I'm just glad I scored tonight when my family came down to see the game."

Messier's father and sister live in Hilton Head Island, S.C., giving Vancouver's current five-game Eastern road trip added importance. They missed the first two games at Carolina and Washington, but made plans to catch the Canucks' swing through Florida and Tampa Bay.

Good timing. Not only did Messier score his 600th, but the Canucks gave their best performance of the young season, a fact not lost on his father. Todd Bertuzzi scored two goals and Mogilny had a goal and three assists.

"The win is great," Doug Messier said. "The way the team played was great -- that's Mark's strength. He was going to get his 600th, but I'm glad it was tonight."

Messier joined former Edmonton teammates Wayne Gretzky and Jari Kurri in reaching the milestone. Gretzky, now with the New York Rangers, is the career leader with 886. Kurri retired after last season with 601.

It was difficult to tell who was more excited about the goal -- Messier or his teammates. He raised his arms the way he has the other 599 times, but showed little added emotion. The rest of the Canucks came streaming from the bench to mob him behind the net.

"He's a class act and the best leader I've ever seen," said goalie Garth Snow, whose fourth career shutout was overlooked amid Messier's achievement.

Messier best will be known as the first NHL player to captain two teams to Stanley Cup championships, with Edmonton in 1990 and the New York Rangers four years later. His leadership as the Rangers ended a 54-year title drought is one of New York's great sports moments.

Trailing New Jersey 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals, Messier guaranteed a Game 6 victory, then backed it up with a natural hat trick in the third period. He later scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 7 of the Finals, a 3-2 win over Vancouver.

"He's my idol; he's the reason I wear No. 11," Florida's Bill Lindsay said. "I'd just rather he did it against somebody else."

The Panthers, who entered the game as the NHL's last unbeaten team, struggled throughout. They rarely tested Snow despite firing 35 shots and went scoreless on five power plays, making them 0-for-13 in their past two outings and 2-for-30 on the season.

"It was just a bad game," said coach Terry Murray, who led the Panthers to a 2-0-2 mark before Friday. "We did not execute. We did not come out to match their intensity."