The 9-0-1 Florida Panthers and 8-0-0 Carolina Hurricanes met in Sunrise on Saturday in a historic contest. It was the first time in NHL history that two teams with season-opening point streaks of at least nine games played each other. A win for the Hurricanes would make them just the third team ever to start an NHL season with 10 straight wins. A win for the Panthers would tie them with two other teams for the most points (21) in the first 11 games of an NHL season.
The Panthers won 5-2, thanks to a four-point night (two goals and two assists) from forward Anthony Duclair. Now sitting at 10-0-1, they can break the record for best 12-game start to an NHL season with a win on Monday in Madison Square Garden. With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the greatest starts to a season in NHL history.
1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs
The 1993 Toronto Maple Leafs came out of the gates firing. Fresh off a Conference Final appearance the season before, the Leafs began with a 6-3 shellacking of the Dallas Stars on opening night. Two days later, they trailed 1-0 after the first period but came back to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks, 2-1.
Toronto’s first road game of the season was a barn-burner against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Leafs went down 2-0, scored four straight goals to go up 4-2, then gave up two straight goals before winning it with 1:51 left in regulation. They returned home to easily dispatch the Washington Capitals (7-1) and Detroit Red Wings (6-3), went to Detroit and beat the Red Wings again (2-1, in a game the featured 31 penalties), then destroyed the now-defunct Hartford Whalers at home, 7-2.
Toronto’s first extended road trip of the season started with a nail-biter in Florida. The Leafs and Panthers fought back and forth, but the Leafs ultimately escaped with a 4-3 win in overtime. A 2-0 shutout in Tampa and a 4-2 win in Chicago followed for the Maple Leafs to bring them to 10 straight wins to start the season, an NHL record. The streak ended in Montreal with a 5-2 loss to the Canadiens.
The Maple Leafs went on to finish the season with a 43-29-12 record, good for second place in the NHL Central Division. They made it back to the Conference Final but once again couldn’t break through to the Stanley Cup Final, losing four games to one against the Vancouver Canucks.
2006-07 Buffalo Sabres
The 2006 Buffalo Sabres, like the 1993 Maple Leafs, were coming off of a seven-game Conference Final loss the season before. Unlike the Maple Leafs, the Sabres had to sweat out the season-opener, edging the Hurricanes 3-2 in a shootout. They also had to sweat out the home opener, coming back from 4-2 to defeat the Canadiens 5-4 in a shootout.
The third game followed a similar script, but the Sabres were able to avoid a shootout, beating the Ottawa Senators 4-3 in regulation. They weren’t able to avoid a shootout in their next game, coming back from down 2-0 to beat the Red Wings. They were once again down 2-0 a day later against the New York Rangers but ultimately cruised to a 7-4 victory. All of Buffalo’s first five games were come-from-behind victories, and three of them required a shootout.
The Sabres finally got a reprieve in their sixth game of the season, blitzing the Flyers, 9-1. They went back to their comeback ways the next game, beating the Hurricanes 5-4 after being down 1-0 and 2-1. They went on the road for their next three games, winning all of them comfortably (6-2 over the Boston Bruins, 4-1 over the Canadiens, and 3-0 over the New York Islanders) and tying the 1993 Maple Leafs for the NHL record of most wins to start a season.
Buffalo had a chance to break that record at home against the Atlanta Thrashers (who moved to Winnipeg five years later). Once again, the Sabres had to come from behind, and once again, it came down to a shootout. This time, the Sabres couldn’t pull out the win, losing 5-4 and ending the streak.
The Sabres finished 53-22-7, winning the Presidents’ Trophy as the team with the best regular-season record. They went on to lose four games to one in the Conference Final (to the Ottawa Senators), giving them yet another parallel to the 1993-94 Maple Leafs.
2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks, who have made headlines recently, were making headlines for many different reasons in 2013. Due to the NHL lockout, they started their season on Jan. 19, beating the Kings 5-2 in L.A. The next night, they beat the Coyotes 6-4 in Phoenix. Their next three games were all 3-2 victories (including one in overtime), and the one after that was a 2-1 overtime win over the Red Wings to get the Blackhawks to 6-0-0.
Chicago suffered its first loss of the season in Minnesota, losing to the Wild 3-2 in a shootout. Another shootout loss came two days later in Vancouver (2-1). But the third time was the charm for the Blackhawks, as their next game was a 3-2 shootout win over the Calgary Flames. They won their next three after that before suffering another shootout loss, this time 3-2 to the Anaheim Ducks.
Following their third shootout loss, the Blackhawks rallied off 11 straight wins (including two in overtime and two in a shootout), breaking the record for longest point streak to begin a season, which was previously 16 games (set by the Ducks in 2006). They finally suffered a regulation loss in Colorado against the Avalanche, falling 5-2 to stop their point streak at 24 games.
Chicago would go on to finish the shortened 2012-13 season 36-7-5, earning the team the Presidents’ Trophy. The Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Final and beat the Boston Bruins in six games to secure the fifth Stanley Cup in the franchise’s history.
The Panthers’ start to this season can be put alongside these other starts as one of the greatest in NHL history, and it has a chance to eclipse them if the Panthers continue to avoid losing in regulation. But ultimately, it’s about how a team ends the season, not how they start it, and the Panthers hope theirs ends as the 2013 Blackhawks did.
Grant is a freelance writer covering the Florida Panthers and Columbus Blue Jackets for THW. He started his own sports blog (Head in the Game) in 2013 and worked in the sports information department while at Trine University, from where he graduated in 2019. You can follow Grant on Twitter @G_Tingley.