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NHL Centennial

Ron Francis has vivid memories of Penguins streak

Pittsburgh's NHL-record run of 17 straight wins ended 24 years ago

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

It's been 24 years since the Pittsburgh Penguins won and won and won again, with 17 straight victories between March 9 and April 10, 1993, until they finally tied on April 14, their NHL consecutive-wins record still standing.

Ron Francis, a big part of the streak with 26 points (six goals, 20 assists), is relating the finest details of it. But the 2007 Hall of Fame inductee, and executive vice president and general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, is lobbing up asterisks as he speaks.

"I'm getting old, you might want to check that," Francis, 54, says with a laugh.

But there's no need. The former center nails every fact he shares about the dazzling string of victories, amazing that he has this recollection of 17 games from among the 1,902 regular-season and Stanley Cup Playoff games he played for the Hartford Whalers, Penguins and Hurricanes from 1981-82 to 2003-04. 

Francis remembers with sharp detail a game against the Ottawa Senators that was postponed because of a blizzard; the improbable fact that defenseman Ulf Samuelsson kept the streak alive at 15 games with an overtime goal, after having scored twice to that point in the season; that Mario Lemieux, having returned from cancer treatment two games before the run began, twice scored four goals, in consecutive games; and that a 6-6 tie at the New Jersey Devils on April 14, 1993, ended the streak.

"I remember it as a bit of a crazy year," Francis says, spot-on when he mentions that the Penguins began the season with eight wins, no losses and two ties in their first 10 games. 

"Mario left for treatment and came back just as that streak started, then overtook (Buffalo Sabres forward) Pat LaFontaine in the scoring race by going on a pretty prolific run. It was kind of a fun time."

The Penguins broke the record set by the 1981-82 New York Islanders, who won 15 in a row while charging to a Stanley Cup championship.

Pittsburgh's record has stood for two dozen years despite a few valiant challenges, most recently the 16 straight wins by the Columbus Blue Jackets this season from Nov. 29-Jan. 3.

The Penguins won 15 straight in 2012-13, and the Washington Capitals won 14 in a row in 2009-10. (Each of those three teams won at least one game in a shootout during its streak; the 1992-93 Penguins could not have done so had they been tied after overtime, making their run even more impressive.)

Video: Memories: Penguins win their 16th consecutive game

The 1992-93 Penguins were loaded with talent; four forwards had 100-point seasons: Lemieux (160), Kevin Stevens (111), Rick Tocchet (109) and Francis (100). Jaromir Jagr, at age 21 in his third NHL season, had 94 points.

Pittsburgh was the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion, and it gnaws at Francis to this day that the Penguins were upset by the Islanders in the Patrick Division Final, losing 4-3 in overtime in Game 7.

"We'd won the Cup the previous two years but I always thought that 1992-93 was probably the best team, from top to bottom, that I played on, and I'm still frustrated that we didn't win the Cup that year," Francis says. "But that streak was pretty special. To have something like that, you've got to get contributions not only from your big guys like Mario, as we did, but good goaltending which we had from Tommy Barrasso, who stole games for us, and contributions from different areas."

Indeed, Lemieux had at least one point in every game of the streak but the last one; he had 27 goals and 24 assists during the run on his way to winning the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL scoring leader for the fourth time with 160 points (69 goals, 91 assists), no matter that he played only 60 games. Lemieux was 12 points behind LaFontaine when the streak began and finished the season 12 ahead of him.

"When you're on that kind of streak, a lot of things have to go well and they certainly did for us during that run," Francis says. "You know what you have in your room. You have the belief in any game you go into that you can win and you certainly don't feel that you're out of any game even if you're behind late. That was the feeling we had with that group: 'Hey, we're a good team, let's go out there and do what we do best.' "

The streak began with a 3-2 home win against the Boston Bruins and continued two nights later with a 4-3 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Kings.

And then the Penguins went on a tear, winning 12 straight games in regulation before Samuelsson scored that overtime goal to defeat the Montreal Canadiens. They defeated the New York Rangers in back-to-back games in regulation before tying the Devils in Pittsburgh's final game of the regular season. 

New Jersey, at home, trailed five times and led 6-5 before Joe Mullen tied it with 1:06 left in the third period.

For their indiscretion, the Devils then lost the first three games to the Penguins in the Patrick Division Semifinals, with Pittsburgh running its undefeated streak to 21 games en route to a five-game series win.

Five games during the run of 17 wins were decided by one goal -- three in regulation, two in overtime. There were a few blowouts -- 9-3 against the Philadelphia Flyers in the fifth game of the streak; 10-2 against the Whalers in the 12th; and 10-4 against the Rangers in the 16th, with Lemieux scoring five times on eight shots against New York.

Typically, Penguins coach Scotty Bowman squeezed everything out of his lineup, and Francis jokes about a few of the talks they had during the streak.

"I had a hamstring that was bugging me, and you know Scotty, always looking at the big picture," he says. "We were fighting with Montreal for the top spot (in the Wales Conference) and early in the streak he told me, 'If we can win this one and that one, then we can get you some rest.' I played every single game."

Now, 24 years later, Francis is happy that the Penguins' record is intact.

"Certainly it was a fun one to be a part of. It continues to live today, which is good for us guys who are retired," he says, laughing again, "and can't do anything about it."

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