Looking back: Sabres’ longest winning streaks
blog by Ben Kirst • March 07, 2013 @ 9:43am
How hot are the Chicago Blackhawks? They’ve opened the season 21-0-3 and have won their last 11 games outright, including Wednesday’s thrilling 3-2 win over the visiting Colorado Avalanche.
The last time the Blackhawks lost in regulation was March 25, 2012, a 6-1 defeat at the paws of the Nashville Predators. And while Chicago is still a few furlongs away from the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers’ National Hockey League-record 35-game unbeaten streak, the team has a feather in its cap that no Broad Steet bully ever earned—congratulatory tweets from King James himself.
The Buffalo Sabres have never come close to a 24-game point streak, but our hometown team has had a few nice runs over the years. Let’s take a look at the longest unbeaten stretches in Sabres history.
1.) 14 games - March 6, 1980 to April 6, 1980. The 1979-80 season was Buffalo’s first under Head Coach Scotty Bowman and the team responded with an Adams Division championship. The Sabres would mow through the Vancouver Canucks (the NHL postseason used to be weird) and the Blackhawks in the first two round of the playoffs before the eventual Stanley Cup-winning New York Islanders knocked Buffalo out of the Eastern Conference Finals in six games—that’s the famous series in which Lindy Ruff was mugged by Islanders’ goalie Billy Smith (Lindy, of course, responded with some rough justice of his own):
The 14-game unbeaten streak started with a 4-3 win at Memorial Auditorium over the visiting Hartford Whalers and carried the Sabres to the end of the regular season schedule. Highlights would include a 9-4 thrashing of St. Louis, a 10-1 beatdown on Detroit and was capped with wins over Quebec, Pittsburgh and Toronto in which Buffalo outscored its opponents 24-7. People talk about the 2005-06 and the 2006-07 teams as the best Sabres outfits to never win a Stanley Cup—with Danny Gare, Gilbert Perrault and Rick Martin combining for 141 goals, a group of blueliners that included Mike Ramsey, John Van Boxmeer, Richie Dunn and Jim Schoenfeld and a goaltending tandem of Bob Sauve and Donnie Edwards, I believe that a better case could be made that this was the team that could have—maybe should have—won that elusive championship.
2.) 13 games - Jan. 4, 1984 to Jan. 29, 1984. Buffalo beat Winnipeg 9-4 at The Aud in the first game of the new year back in 1984, improving the powerful team’s record to 23-13-4. The Sabres would not lose for the rest of the month, dominating their competition on the offensive end (55 goals) while playing shutdown defense (25 goals allowed). The team was actually second in team defense in 1983-84, as netminders Tom Barrasso and Bob Sauve let just 255 pucks sneak through over the course of the campaign.
Seven players had 20 or more goals for that squad, led by winger Dave Andreychuk’s 38 tallies. Defenseman Phil Housley has 31 goals, which seems insane by today’s standards. Alas, it was all for nothing, as Buffalo finished second in the Adams Division and then flamed out in a first-round playoff sweep at the hands of the Quebec Nordiques.
3.) 13 games - Jan. 21, 1998 to March 2, 1998. Remember this team? The hockey situation in Buffalo was tumultuous—it was the first year of the Rigas era, the first year of the Lindy Ruff era, the glory days of evil goaltending genius Dominik Hasek (Vezina Trophy, Hart Trophy, Pearson Award, first-team all-star), the second year of the black-and-red uniforms and, after a shocking Northeast Division title in 1996-97, the execution of Head Coach Ted Nolan. I think we forget what a circus the team was over the late 1990s, with John Muckler, Nolan, Gerry Meehan, Hasek and Matt Barnaby all experiencing varying degrees of public shaming and mental meltdowns. It was bizarre.
The 1997-98 Sabres played great defense, couldn’t score and loved to punch people. This was a team led by the enigmatic Hasek, the mercurial Miro Satan, the frustrating Donald Audette, the ferocious Rob Ray and the fightin’ goaltender himself, Steve Shields.
The team’s record dipped to 10-16-6 following a 4-0 loss to the Islanders on Dec. 16—I can’t remember specifics, but my guess is that Ted Nolan fans were raising a small army to storm downtown Buffalo.
But the Sabres turned it around, winning three out of four. The team dropped a pair at the end of the year, then put together a 2-0-2 streak. A loss at San Jose was followed by wins over Toronto and Vancouver, and a subsequent defeat by Philadelphia was sandwiched by two more wins over Carolina and Tampa Bay. All of the sudden, Buffalo was hot.
With those two victories over their Southeast Division foes, the Sabres tore off a 7-0-6 streak that pushed the team over .500 and allowed them to wobble into the playoffs. Buffalo shocked Philadelphia with a 4-1 series victory in the first round and then swept Montreal, 4-0, before running into Jim Carey and the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Finals.
If the 1979-80 team was the best squad in franchise history to never win a Stanley Cup, the 1997-98 team may have been the worst to nearly make a championship run. Still, we’ll always remember those halcyon days of an offense paced by Derek Plante, Dixon Ward, Brian Holzinger and Michael Grosek. The days when Rob Ray, Bob Boughner and Matthew Barnaby fought anything that moved (and for half the season, Brad May did, too, before he was traded for Geoff Sanderson). The days when we were never quite sure if our all-world goaltender was going to just quit because he hated the team. The days when the players weren’t exactly sure if their paychecks would bounce. Things have changed!