There is something to be said about a team in search of history. The Miami Heat captivated the entire sports world with their assault on the NBA consecutive wins record. In the end it was not meant to be; the Heat’s streak ended at 27 games, a mere six games shy of the 1972-32 Los Angeles Lakers record of 33. Now our attention shifts to the Pittsburgh Penguins and their pursuit of the NHL’s record for wins in a row, which at the moment stands at 17 and is held by, you guessed it, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Unlike the Heat, the Penguins are chasing down a record held by its own franchise. It’s a unique situation for a club that always seems to find itself in ‘unique situations.’ The ’92-93 Penguins were no different. In fact, that season the Pens might of had to deal with one of the most captivating and tragically cruel series of invents in team sports history. Are today’s Pens headed down a similar path?
Following back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, Pittsburgh entered the ’92-93 season as favorites to do it again. Unlike today, NHL teams repeated as Cup champions with regularity. From 1974 to 1992, only the ’85-86 Montreal Canadiens, ’88-89 Calgary Flames and ’89-90 Edmonton Oilers failed to skate with Lord Stanley’s Cup the following season. So for many, the ’92-93 Penguins seemed like a lock to take the Cup home again.
And why not? Led by a 27-year-old Mario Lemieux and his brand new seven-year $42 million contract the sky was the limit for the franchise and its fans. But, like so many great stories, tragedy and fate can easily turn the tide of good fortune.
In early January of 1993, the Penguins were cruising with a 28-10-4 record; even with Lemieux dealing with severe back pain. While receiving treatment for his ailing back, Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. The Penguins captain missed 24 games while he underwent extensive treatment. Even with the bad news, the Penguins never wavered until Lemieux heroically fought his way back on to the ice. Despite missing more than a quarter of the season, the Pens captain led his team to the President’s trophy and an NHL record 17 consecutive wins in the final month and a half of the season.
Super Mario finished the regular season with 69 goals and 160 points in only 60 games. It was a comeback story for the ages. Following a month of radiation treatment, Lemieux returned to win his fourth scoring title, while also skating away with the Hart Trophy, Lester B. Pearson award and the Masterson Trophy for dedication a perseverance.
Pittsburgh rolled over the Devils in the Patrick Division semi-finals, before the New York Islanders stunned the world by knocking off the defending champs with a game 7 overtime win.
Could history repeat itself in the form of the 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins?
The modern day Pens have won 15 games in a row and now face some unexpected uncertainty of their own. Captain and NHL points leader, Sidney Crosby, was struck in the face by a puck and underwent surgery to repair a broken jaw. He is out indefinitely and unlike Lemieux, there is no guarantee he will be back at all this season.
These Pens are not the juggernaut of their counterparts from two decades prior, but they are still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference. The acquisitions of Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla may take some of the sting off the loss of Crosby and further increase the public expectations.
It is still too early to tell how this story will end, but I can see a “History Will Be Made” commercial in Pittsburgh’s future.
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