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That time the Islanders set the NHL record for consecutive wins

As Columbus chases history, a look back at yet another time the Islanders made some.

Clarke Gilles Is Exuberant After Scoring
Holy crap. We have archival photos now?

The Blue Jackets beat the Oilers 3-1 on Tuesday for their 16th straight win. A victory on Thursday in Washington would tie them with the 1992-93 Penguins for the NHL record with 17 consecutive victories.

About 10 years before Pittsburgh set the new record, the Islanders had won 15 in a row, a remarkable accomplishment that gets a little lost in the shuffle when discussing a team that executed remarkable accomplishments almost on a weekly basis. The Islanders’ streak started on January 21st, 1982 against the Penguins, whom they would beat four times over the next 15 games and who, ironically, would be the team to snap it on February 21st.

Going a month without losing is impressive enough, but the Islanders’ run has a few more special elements. One, they broke a record that stood for over 50 years, topping the 1929-30 Bruins, who had won 14 consecutive games. Two, this was a period in league history in which regular season overtime didn’t exist, so the streak was 15 regulation wins in a row with no ties. During their 35-game unbeaten streak between 1979 and 1980, the Flyers’ longest run of wins was “only” nine straight. The Blue Jackets have two shootout wins and an OT victory during their current streak.

Third, and perhaps most ridiculously, the Islanders didn’t exactly eek out those wins. They averaged 6.5 goals per game during the streak, winning by scores of 9-2 over Pittsburgh, 7-3 over Buffalo, and back-to-back 8-2 wins over Chicago and Philadelphia followed by a 9-1 win over Hartford.

The Winner

Okay, fine. They did eek out one win, the record-breaker, which has gone on to be a big part of Islanders lore even as the streak itself has sorta taken a back seat. Tied at 2 with the Colorado Rockies - led by former Islanders Chico Resch and Bob Lorimer - the Islanders were in danger of settling for a tie with a far-inferior opponent and snapping the streak.

But with 47 seconds remaining, frequent playoff hero John Tonelli accepted a pass from Bryan Trottier and sent a slapshot right though Resch’s five hole, giving the Islanders the lead and, eventually, the record.

I’ll let the AP sum up the scene pretty succinctly:

At the final buzzer, the Islanders stormed the ice in a celebration nearly as frantic as the ones that followed their Stanley Cup victories the past two years.

Let that paragraph sink in for a minute... and remember what pride felt like.

Resch, of course, was a big part of that first Stanley Cup victory and had some mixed feelings about being on the receiving end of Islanders magic for a change.

From Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders, 1972-1984 by Greg Prato:

I can still see the boys jumping in the corner and going bonkers. But you know what? I’m glad it was them and not somebody else. It was an awesome homecoming, though. I do remember that - the fans were very, very nice to me. So, yeah, it was a full circle moment.

OCT 9 1981, OCT 10 1981; Ice Hockey - Colorado Rockets Glenn Resch; Ex-Islander, former teammates sh
All smiles a few months before that February night in Nassau.
Photo By Duane Howell/The Denver Post via Getty Images

The End

Sadly, fifteen would be where the streak ended. The next night in Pittsburgh, the Islanders would lose to the Penguins 4-3, giving up two goals to center Mike Bullard. Reports indicate the Penguins were gracious in victory:

A tie would have been just as effective in halting the Islander string, but the Penguin fans were overjoyed with the victory, the team's second in two nights after a nine-game victoryless streak. As the last seconds ticked off, the organist at the Civic Center played ''Taps.'

At the time, coach Al Arbour said he was proud of his club and that they’d just have to start a new streak. Years later - again in Dynasty, which dedicates its entire chapter of the 1981-82 regular season to the streak - Clark Gillies opined that he and his teammates may have been just a tiny bit too proud of their accomplishment in the evening between beating the Rockies and playing the Penguins.

That night we left and went to Pittsburgh. I think we might have over-celebrated the 15th win a little bit, and Pittsburgh beat us the next night. It was fun while it lasted. I thought that record would last for a really long time, but Pittsburgh ended up getting 17 [in 1992-93]

Indeed, the Penguins’ streak lasted from March 9th to April 10th, 1993. A 6-6 tie with the New Jersey Devils ended their run on the last day of the season.

The Islanders went on to win their third straight Cup in 1982, sweeping the Vancouver Canucks. Time will tell how far the Blue Jackets get this season.

Hey, whatever happened to that 1992-93 Penguins team? Oh, right.