The Montreal Canadiens quest to tie the NHL record for most consecutive wins to start an NHL season came to a grinding halt this past Tuesday with a 5-1 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver goaltender Ryan Miller might have had extra incentive to win that game, given his 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres team is one of the two teams to hold the current NHL record.
In the process, Miller and his Canuck teammates also brought a rare piece of positive news for Toronto Maple Leafs fans who are enduring a difficult start for their blue and white charges. The other team that will continue to share the record is the 1993-94 Maple Leafs.
Fresh from their memorable playoff run in the spring of 1993, the Leafs opened the next season with a 6-3 win over the Dallas Stars on October 7. Dave Andreychuk scored twice while singles went to Nikolai Borschevsky, Wendel Clark, Todd Gill and Rob Pearson. The Leafs would not lose another game in their next nine contests, spanning a period of 23 days. There was still a great Leaf buzz on the Toronto sports scene, but this record breaking streak was taking a bit of a back seat to the Toronto Blue Jays playoff run towards a second consecutive World Series.
Six of the Leafs’ 10 wins came on the road. The first four were one-goal victories, 2-1 in Chicago on October 9, then 5-4 in Philadelphia on October 10, 2-1 in Detroit on October 16 and 4-3 in Florida (with Rob Pearson scoring the game winner in overtime) on October 21.
The Leafs were a loose and confident group as they moved from Florida to play Tampa Bay on October 23. The Florida win was the only overtime game the Leafs had and the only time Damian Rhodes played goal instead of starter Felix Potvin during the streak.
Mark Osborne scored both goals in a 2-0 win over Tampa as Potvin recorded his only shutout during that streak. The team was in a hurry to get back to the Tampa hotel after the game to try and catch some of the Game 6 action of the World Series. There were no cell phones or electronic devices that could provide any baseball updates.
The team quickly rushed to the main floor bar area after arriving back at the hotel. The Jays were in the midst of a rally in the bottom of the ninth and as the Leafs huddled around the lone television set behind the bar, Joe Carter came to bat. A member of Leaf management loudly offered his baseball expertise from the back of the group, “this pinhead will never get a clutch hit.”
Carter promptly deposited a Mitch Williams pitch over the left field wall in Skydome and rounded the bases celebrating a walk off home run for a second consecutive Toronto Blue Jays World Series win.
While some were chastising the baseball acumen of the one Leaf executive, Pat Burns kiddingly talked about landing back in Toronto the next morning to a baseball-crazed city. “Hey everybody, we’re home…we’ve won nine games in a row…look over here…we’re home” to put in context where the streak ranked after a World Series victory.
The team returned to Toronto and then flew to Chicago a few days later for the 10th game. They beat Chicago for the second time that season, 4-2, in what was Chicago Stadium’s last season. Clark had two goals, Borschevsky one and Kent Manderville the other. Two days later Toronto’s streak ended with a 5-2 loss in Montreal.
They outscored their opponents 47–25 over those 10 games, averaging almost five goals scored per game. The Leafs had finished the 1992-93 regular season with a 20-6-2 record in their final 28 regular season games. Add the great start and the Leafs were 30-6-2 in the span of 38 regular season games, a winning percentage of .864, likely the most successful run in Leaf team history.
The Leafs went on to play just a bit above .500 hockey for the final 74 games of the 1993-94 regular season, finishing 43-29-12. They made it to the conference final once again, but were eliminated in five games by Pat Quinn’s Vancouver Canucks. It was another great run, but not the same as the playoff run in 1993. As a matter of fact, through some good seasons over the years, the Leafs have never been as good as they were in that stretch, which ended with the conclusion of the 10-game winning streak.
The Blue Jays playoff run this past season reminded me of what a great bunch of guys, on and off the ice, made up that Toronto Maple Leafs team 22 years ago, much like this current Blue Jay squad.
I am especially pleased that the streak remains for the two guys who can no longer cherish and celebrate it, the late Peter Zezel and coach Pat Burns. Your legacy continues for another year!