by Naila-Jean Meyers
Columbus Blue Jackets winning streak ended at 16 games with a 5-0 loss to the Capitals in Washington on Thursday night.
Before the game, Capitals forward Andre Burakovsky told reporters that it was “going to be a really fun moment for us” to end Columbus’s streak. And Washington, which finished with the league’s best record last season, wasted little time, taking a 2-0 lead in the first 12 minutes.
Later, Burakovsky even got in on the action, scoring Washington’s fourth goal late in the second period.
The surprising Blue Jackets came one victory short of sharing the N.H.L. record with one of the most dominant teams of the past 25 years: the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, who won 17 in a row late that season.
Those Penguins were two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, coached by the Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman. They had four 100-point scorers in Mario Lemieux, Kevin Stevens, Rick Tocchet and Ron Francis, and a 21-year-old named Jaromir Jagr. Four members of the team have been inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
These Blue Jackets had the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference last season, after opening with an eight-game losing streak. They are coached by John Tortorella, who arrived in Columbus last season after ignominious ends in his two previous stops, with the Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. When this season began, Tortorella was again under fire, for how he handled the United States team at the World Cup of Hockey.
These Blue Jackets are considerably short on star power, though they have a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky, a leading rookie in defenseman Zach Werenski and a two-time Stanley Cup-winning forward in Brandon Saad.
These Blue Jackets are one of the youngest teams in the N.H.L., both in average player age and in years in the league. Since entering the N.H.L. as an expansion team in the 2000-1 season, Columbus has two playoff appearances and no series victories. The Blue Jackets have, in fact, won only two playoff games.
Columbus’s previous loss came in a shootout to the Florida Panthers on Nov. 26. (Fun fact: Jagr, now 44 and a Panthers player, scored in that game.) At the time, Columbus was 11-5-4, in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets have surged to the best record in the league, 3 points ahead of the defending champion Penguins and the Rangers.
“When I came here, I wanted to be a big part of turning this thing around and being part of an organization that people respected — not feared but revered,” Nick Foligno, the team captain, told NHL.com recently. “We’re starting to get that. I don’t think we’re there yet. We’re no longer the Columbus Blue Jackets of old, I think. We’ve taken a big step in becoming a new team, a new direction, a new organization.”
The 1992-93 Penguins were revered, and their 17-game streak was the climax of Lemieux’s most memorable season.
The streak began on March 9, one week after Lemieux returned from missing 24 games to receive treatment for Hodgkin’s disease. Lemieux, 27 and in his ninth N.H.L. season, had a point in 16 games during the winning streak, amassing 27 goals and 24 assists. (Columbus’s leading scorer in its streak, Cam Atkinson, had 10 goals and eight assists.)
In only 60 games that season, Lemieux accumulated 160 points. Only Lemieux, three years later, has had as many points in a season since.
During the streak, he had two four-goal games and a five-goal game, in a 10-4 victory over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden on April 9. It gave Pittsburgh 16 wins in a row to break the previous N.H.L. mark, set by the 1981-82 Islanders. The Penguins, amid a run at a dynasty, had grabbed a record held by another dynastic team.
The streak ended on April 14, in the Penguins’ last regular-season game, a 6-6 tie against the Devils. (Ties were possible then. They are not now, and the Blue Jackets’ streak included one overtime win and two shootout wins.)
Pittsburgh finished the regular season 56-21-7, the best record in the league by 10 points. The Penguins were more than 30 points better than in the previous two years, when they won the Stanley Cup.
“This is definitely the best team I’ve played on in my career,” Lemieux said days before the streak ended. “We certainly won’t be satisfied if we don’t win it.”
But they did not win the Stanley Cup, which went to the Montreal Canadiens. The Penguins were upset by the Islanders in overtime of Game 7 in the second round of the playoffs.
Before Columbus, only one team got close to the win streak record: the 2012-13 Penguins, who won 15 in a row in a lockout-shortened season. They did not win the Stanley Cup, either, losing to the Boston Bruins in the conference finals.