If the Chicago Blackhawks can win in regulation time or get to overtime against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night, they’ll extend their record start to 20 straight games with at least a point to start a season.
But how does it stack up against the best 20-game segments in NHL history? Not so great, actually, particularly when you level the playing field to cover all eras in hockey history. Let’s say the Hawks win in regulation against the Blues to move their record to 17-0-3. They’ve had the benefit of gaining a point with a shootout or overtime loss, which they’ve done three times, but have not been credited with a loss the way teams previously were when they would lose in overtime. If you go by that standard and also factor in that overtime didn’t exist until 1983-84, all the Hawks’ overtime or shootout games so far would become ties. A regulation win over the Blues would give them a 12-0-8 mark this season, since five of their wins and their three defeats have been in overtime or a shootout.
That, in fact, doesn’t even put them in THN.com’s top 10. With a huge help from Randy Robles at the Elias Sports Bureau, here they are, when you account for all overtime and shootout games as ties. Some of the teams listed below posted their record several times that season:
1. 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens (19-1-0)
The Canadiens teams of the 1960s don’t seem to get the same recognition of the dynasties of the 1950s and ’70s, but the Habs won five Cups in the ’60s, as many as they did in the ’50s and one fewer than the ’70s. Perhaps the most dominant of those five winners was the 1967-68 team. The Canadiens made legendary coach Toe Blake’s last year a memorable one, winning 19 of 20. They then went on to lose just one of 13 playoff games en route to the Stanley Cup.
2. 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (18-1-1)
Coming of a crushing loss in the Stanley Cup final to the New Jersey Devils and on the cusp of becoming something of a dynasty, the Red Wings finished with 131 points, one shy of the NHL record, in large part due to their incredible run in November and December of that season. They went on to lose the Western Conference final to the team that would go on to win the Cup, the Colorado Avalanche.
- 1981-82 New York Islanders (18-1-1)
It was the season Wayne Gretzky put on the most spectacular offensive display ever seen in the NHL, but the Islanders were the cream of the NHL. Although they had only a tie and a loss against the Oilers that season, they beat everybody else and for a spell between January and March of that season, they went on an incredible run.
- 1972-73 Boston Bruins (18-1-1)
The Bruins led the league in goals scored that season and had the highest-scoring forward (Phil Esposito) and defenseman (Bobby Orr) in the league. And despite going on two separate runs of 18-1-1, they neither finished first overall nor won the Stanley Cup. In fact, they flamed out spectacularly in the playoffs, losing in five games to the New York Rangers.
- 1944-45 Montreal Canadiens (18-1-1)
Sandwiched between two Stanley Cups after going 12 years without a title and icing some of the worst teams in franchise history, the ’44-45 Canadiens were the class of the league, going 38-8-4 to win the regular season title by 13 points. But the Canadiens, who had several 18-1-1 stretches from December to February, were shocked in six games in the first round by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
6. 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens (16-0-4)
The third of four straight Stanley Cup champions, the Canadiens went 20 straight games without a loss between December and February of that season.
- 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers (16-0-4)
As part of their NHL-record streak of 35 consecutive games undefeated, the Flyers also went 20 without a blemish in the loss column. They finished first overall that season, but lost the Stanley Cup final in six to the Islanders.
8. 1939-40 New York Rangers (17-1-2)
The Rangers did not finish first overall that season and their top scorer had only 39 points, but that didn’t stop them from going on a tear in December and January. They went on to win the Stanley Cup that season, then went 54 years before winning another.
- 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens (17-1-2)
Barstools everywhere have witnessed those who claim this team was the greatest in NHL history and they certainly looked like it in February and March. This streak helped that team establish a record of 132 points, which has endured the overtime/shootout era so far.
- 1983-84 Edmonton Oilers (17-1-2)
After losing in the Stanley Cup final the previous spring, the Oilers served notice they meant business, going on a 17-1-2 run in December and January of that season. They went on to win their first of four Stanley Cups in five years.
- 1982-83 Boston Bruins (17-1-2)
The Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy that season on the strength of their run through December and January. Alas, they lost in the semifinal to the Islanders, who went on to win their last Stanley Cup.
- 1982-83 Philadelphia Flyers (17-1-2)
As the Bruins were cutting a swath through the league, the Flyers were doing exactly the same thing. They weren’t near as good in the playoffs, flaming out in three straight to the New York Rangers in the first round.
The THN.com Top 10 appears Wednesdays only on TheHockeyNews.com.