It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. A 3-2 win by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the visiting Boston Bruins at The Igloo on Mar. 9, 1993, stopped a two-game losing streak. Joe Mullen’s second goal of the game 25 seconds into the third period proved to be the difference.
That victory ignited a National Hockey League-record winning streak. Over the next 32 days, the Penguins would win 17 straight games, a mark that still stands.
In 1929-30, the Boston Bruins set the standard with a 14-game winning streak. It started Dec. 3, 1929, with a 3-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens and lasted until Jan. 9 with a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates. A 3-2 loss to the New York Americans on Jan. 12 halted the streak.
Coached by Art Ross, among the Bruins on that team were Hall of Famers Eddie Shore, Dit Clapper, Cooney Weiland, Marty Barry, Harry Oliver, Mickey MacKay and Tiny Thompson.
The streak stood until 1982 when the New York Islanders reeled off 15 consecutive victories. It began Jan. 21 with a 6-1 victory over the Penguins, and three more times during the streak the Islanders would defeat Pittsburgh.
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On Feb. 18, the Islanders overcame a two-goal deficit in the second period by scoring the game’s final five goals to beat the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-4, and tie the 1929-30 Bruins with 14 straight wins. Two days later, at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders set the record with their 15th consecutive victory, 3-2, over the Colorado Rockies. John Tonelli scored the winning goal in the final minute of the third period against former Islanders goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch.
“Can you imagine it? A winning streak like this,” the Islanders’ Clark Gillies told Newsday. “Who’s going to do this again?”
Eleven years later, someone did.
Anatomy of the Penguins’ Streak
Following their victory over the Bruins on Mar. 9, 1993, the Penguins beat the Los Angeles Kings two days later in overtime, 4-3, as Jaromir Jagr scored the game-winner. It was one of two overtime wins during the Penguins’ streak. The other was win No. 15 on April 7 against the Canadiens. Ulf Samuelsson’s goal at 2:11 of OT gave the Pens a 4-3 victory that matched the Islanders’ mark of 15 straight wins.
Against the Islanders on Mar. 14, third-period goals by Larry Murphy and Ron Francis rallied the Penguins to a 3-2 victory and win No. 3. On Mar. 18 against the Washington Capitals, behind Mario Lemieux’s four goals, the Penguins jumped out to a 7-1 lead before holding on for a 7-5 victory as the Capitals scored four times in the final 8:17. Lemieux had another four-goal game on Mar. 20 as the Penguins dumped the Flyers, 9-3, for win No. 5. On Mar. 21, Lemieux and Kevin Stevens each scored their 50th goals of the season in a 6-4 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers in a game played in Cleveland, Ohio.
The beat continued: 7-2 over the San Jose Sharks; 4-3 over the New Jersey Devils; 5-3 over the Bruins; 4-1 over the Capitals; 6-4 over the Ottawa Senators; 10-2 over the Hartford Whalers; 5-3 over the Quebec Nordiques; 5-2 over the Devils. The streak reached 14.
After the OT win over the Canadiens made it 15, the Penguins headed to Madison Square Garden on Apr. 9 to face the Rangers with a chance to make history. Tied at 3 six minutes into the second period, the Penguins scored the next seven goals – four by Lemieux, who finished with five – for a 10-4 win and their 16th straight. For good measure, the Penguins made it 17 in a row the next night with a 4-2 victory over the New York Rangers.
The winning streak came to an end on Apr. 14 with a 6-6 overtime tie against the Devils in the regular-season finale. The Penguins trailed, 6-5, but Mullen scored the tying goal with 1:06 left in the third period.
By the Numbers
During the 17-game winning streak, the Penguins outscored the opposition, 96-48, including a 40-12 margin in the second period. They also outscored opponents, 26-15, in the first period and, 28-21, in the third period.
Lemieux scored 27 goals during the streak on his way to a 69-goal, 160-point, Hart Trophy-winning season. Rick Tocchet had 14 goals, Mullen scored 11 times and Jagr netted 10 goals.
Goalie Tom Barrasso had 14 wins during the streak. He played 831 minutes, 1 second, faced 444 shots and made 410 saves. Backup Ken Wregget had three wins, facing 93 shots, making 79 saves and playing 194:25.
Only in seven games during the streak did the Penguins trail a game for a total of 101:29.
Other Noteworthy NHL Streaks
Twice since the 1992-93 Penguins set the NHL mark of 17 straight wins, teams have challenged the record. The 2012-13 Penguins won 15 games in a row from Mar. 2 to Mar. 30 before losing to the Buffalo Sabres, 4-1 on Apr. 2. Then, the 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets reeled off 16 consecutive victories from Nov. 29 to Jan. 3 before falling one win short with a 5-0 loss to the Capitals on Jan. 5.
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Also, the 1954-55 Detroit Red Wings won 15 straight games. However, the first nine wins of the streak were during the regular season, while the next six came during the playoffs.
And, the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers set the longest unbeaten streak in NHL history at 35 games. After winning their season opener over the Islanders, the Flyers lost to the Atlanta Flames in their second game, then went 25-0-10 before getting beat by the Minnesota North Stars, 7-1, on Jan. 7. But the most games in a row the Flyers won during the unbeaten streak was nine.
Consolation Prize for Pittsburgh
What is most interesting about these winning streaks is they didn’t always come during a championship season.
The Penguins sought a third straight Stanley Cup in 1993. They defeated the Devils in five games in the first round but fell to the Islanders in seven games in the division final. In 2013, the Penguins were swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Columbus fell to the Penguins in the first round last season. The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Final in 1980 but lost to the Islanders in six games.
Only the 1982 Islanders parlayed their winning streak during the regular season into a championship, capturing their third of four straight Stanley Cups. (It should be noted, too, that the 1955 Red Wings went on to win the Cup).