Breaking down the Sabres' winning streak
The Buffalo Sabres made it a perfect 10 on Thursday with their win over the New York Islanders, matching the NHL record for the longest winning streak to start a season set by the 1993-94 Toronto Maple Leafs.
The streak isn't the only similarity between these two teams; each team had heartbreaking finishes to their previous seasons before starting off the new campaign in record style.
The 1992-93 Maple Leafs were the darlings of Canada that spring. After years of mediocrity and one season after finishing with just 67 points, the Leafs made the playoffs behind the inspired play of Doug Gilmour, who was acquired the previous season in one of the most lopsided trades in NHL history. Gilmour led the Leafs with 127 points.
|Longest Streaks to Start NHL Season|
|1993-94||Maple Leafs||10||Lost in conf. finals|
|2005-06||Predators||8||Lost in conf. quarters|
|1975-76||Sabres||8||Lost in conf. semis|
|1934-35||Maple Leafs||8||Lost in Cup finals|
The Sabres finished last in the Northeast Division in 2003-04 and rebounded after the lockout in 2005-06 to win 52 games (tied for the most in the Eastern Conference), finishing with 110 points and the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Both teams pulled off upsets in the playoffs and used an OT goal to clinch a series. For the '92-93 Leafs, it came in the opening round, upsetting the Detroit Red Wings in Game 7 on the road with an OT goal from Nikolai Borschevsky. The Sabres were heavy underdogs against the top-seeded Ottawa Senators in the second round of last postseason. Amazingly, the Sabres eliminated the Senators in five games with Jason Pominville's shorthanded tally at 2:26 of overtime, the first series-clinching, short-handed overtime goal in NHL history.
The two teams also saw their postseasons end in Game 7 of the conference finals. Toronto ran into the Los Angeles Kings and a guy named Wayne Gretzky, who scored an overtime goal to force the seventh game and then proceeded to score a hat trick in the deciding matchup. In 2005-06, Buffalo had the lead entering the third period in its Game 7 against Carolina, but allowed three goals in the final 20 minutes to lose 4-2.
When comparing these starting streaks, it could be argued that the 1993-94 Leafs streak is more impressive. They did not have the benefit of the shootout format, which, if not installed, would have ended the Sabres streak on opening night, when they beat the Carolina Hurricanes in the shootout.
The Leafs went to overtime only once during their opening run, getting an OT winner from Rob Pearson in a win over Florida for their eighth consecutive victory. At that time, it tied the record held by the Leafs in 1934-35. Toronto's run then matched (ironically) a streak set by the 1975-76 Sabres.
While it has benefited from the shootout, Buffalo does have a potent offense, leading the NHL with 46 goals (this does not include the three goals credited in its shootout wins). Defensively, the Sabres have been just as stingy, collecting their first shutout of the season Thursday. It was the sixth time this season where they allowed no more than two goals during this fabulous run.
The Maple Leafs went to the conference finals again in 1993-94, but were knocked out in five games by the Vancouver Canucks. Can the Sabres go farther than the Leafs and win their first Stanley Cup in team history?
Vincent Masi is a researcher for ESPN.
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