Going for as long as the Blue Jackets have without losing a game is indeed a monumental achievement. But their actual win streak would only be six games measured against others in history.
From a historical perspective, what exactly do we make of the Columbus Blue Jackets if they win Thursday against the Washington Capitals and Saturday night against the New York Rangers to set the all-time NHL record for consecutive wins with 18? How exactly do these Blue Jackets stack up in history with other teams that did not have the benefit of 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout?
Well, perhaps there’s nobody better to ask about that than Scotty Bowman. His 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins team won 16 straight, then tied the New Jersey Devils 6-6 in the last game of the season. After five minutes of 5-on-5 overtime failed to produce a winner, the game went into the books as a deadlock. But that team won its 17 games without the benefit of a shootout. It did win three 5-on-5 overtime games during the streak, but it also won 12 straight in regulation time. By comparison, the Blue Jackets have won five and six in a row in regulation.
Speaking of Bowman, his 1977-78 Canadiens went 28 straight games without a loss, with separate winning streaks of eight and seven games in regulation. The year before, when the Canadiens set a record for fewest losses in a season with eight, they went 21 straight without a loss, posting an eight-game winning streak. The 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the record for most consecutive games unbeaten at 35, had 10 ties during their streak and had a regulation streak of nine straight wins.
But those aren’t even the most impressive winning streaks in NHL history. That distinction, without doubt, belongs to the 1981-82 New York Islanders, a team that won 15 straight regulation games en route to their third of four straight Stanley Cups. The Islanders were utterly dominant during their run, outscoring their opponents by a mind-boggling 100-35 margin. Next in line were the 1929-30 Boston Bruins, who won 14 straight without using overtime. There actually was overtime in the NHL then, but the Bruins won all 14 of their games in regulation.
Would the Penguins, Canadiens or Flyers have bettered the Blue Jackets with the benefit of 3-on-3 overtime and a shootout? Well, the talent level those teams had would have certainly made it possible – imagine putting out Jacques Lemaire, Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson for a 3-on-3 — but it’s impossible to tell.
“Percentage-wise, you wouldn’t have won them all,” Bowman said. “I wish they would have had (3-on-3 and shootouts) when I was coaching. I don’t know how many ties I had, probably a couple hundred.”
Well, since you brought it up, Bowman had 314 career ties, with 173 of them coming before the five-minute overtime was introduced in 1983-84. Even if he had won only half of those via overtime or the shootout, he’d have well over 1,300 career wins. Bowman never coached during the 3-on-3 overtime or shootout eras. But the legendary coach gives the Blue Jackets full marks for their run, saying it’s much more difficult to do it in today’s parity-driven NHL.
“It’s quite a feat now to play with the travel and the grind,” Bowman said. “They’ve been out west a couple of times. To do it today is pretty impressive.”
And it is impressive. But not quite as impressive as winning 15 straight and needing only 60 minutes and no skills competition to do it. Which is why the Blue Jackets should have an asterisk beside their record.