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Inside the NHL: A long winning streak doesn't guarantee a big finish to a season

NASHVILLE — We have no idea how history is going to write the rest of the Buffalo Sabres' season in the wake of their 10-game winning streak. One thing we already know the run did was awaken a sleeping giant of a fan base, probably guaranteeing several more full houses in KeyBank Center the rest of the season.

But what kind of success down the road does the streak foreshadow? If you look at NHL history, it doesn't automatically mean big things for the rest of the season.

The NHL record for a winning streak is 17 by the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins, who were coming off back-to-back Stanley Cups. But they were upset in overtime of Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs that spring by the New York Islanders.

The most consecutive wins in a season by an eventual Cup champion is 15, set by the 1981-82 New York Islanders en route to their third straight Cup. They broke the then-NHL record of 14 in a row that had stood since the 1929-30 Boston Bruins on a John Tonelli goal with 47 seconds left to produce a 3-2 win over the old Colorado Rockies in a era where ties at the end of regulation snapped winning streaks. The only other Cup winner to get to 12 straight wins during their season was the 1967-68 Montreal Canadiens.

Sabres fans, however, should feel good about their team's playoff chances. The only team in history to run off 10 in a row and not make the postseason was the 2016-17 Philadelphia Flyers, who only finished the season with 88 points in a year where three Metropolitan Division teams were at 108 or more.

The Sabres have built up quite a cushion in the playoff hunt already and have performed well in the Atlantic Division to date.

Recent history is rough on teams with long streaks. The 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets won 16 in a row but still lost in the first round of the playoffs to Pittsburgh. In fact, the Jackets were relatively ordinary outside of their streak, going 34-24-8 in their other 66 games.

The only other 15-gamer was in the 2013 lockout season by Pittsburgh. The Dan Bylsma-led Penguins were 36-12 that season and played to a 123-point pace but were swept in the East final by Boston.

According to NHL.com, there have been 48 streaks of 10 or more wins in NHL history, dating to 1917. Boston is the leader with six streaks. Pittsburgh and Montreal have five and Philadelphia has four. The Sabres now stand as the only team with three, and thus rank fifth all-time in streaks of 10 or more wins.

This Buffalo streak was the 23rd to end at 10 games, just like its previous ones in 2006 and 1984. Had the Sabres swept their two-game Florida trip to get to 12, they would have been up to the top 17 all time.

Mike Harrington: This Sabres streak is real and it's spectacular

More streak chatter

• Not many Sabres have experiences in teams growing into winners but Kyle Okposo went through the process with the Islanders. They went five straight years without making the playoffs before qualifying in the 2013 lockout year, and had back-to-back 100-point seasons in 2014-15 and 2015-16, winning their first playoff series in 23 years in 2016.

"The lockout season was pretty special for us but it's different too," Okposo said. "That one we didn't really know what we were doing and all of a sudden we started winning games. This year, we really put the work into doing it starting in the summer. Our season now feels a little more like two years later on the Island with 101 points. We're still in the beginning stages of that but you have to like where we are."

• Sabres legend Danny Gare joined Gilbert Perreault and Rene Robert in watching Buffalo's horrible loss last month in Vegas. Two days later, the Sabres lost in San Jose. Three days later, coach Phil Housley completely blew up his lineup, sparking a 14-3-3 run after a 3-4 start.

Said Gare: "It was a lousy game in Vegas. Then after they went to San Jose. Same thing. So Phil said, 'The heck with it, I'm going to make this move' and he's done it. Changed all the lines, all the (defense) pairs, everything. That's what you like to see about him and the coaching staff. They all have a feel."

• Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper: "Tip your cap to Jason Botterill for bringing the guys in and Phil Housley has got them playing as a unit. It's not been fun for the Atlantic Division, but it has sure been fun for the city of Buffalo."

Wilson skates away

Capitals headhunter Tom Wilson is darn lucky to still be playing this season after his hit on Devils forward Brett Seney on Friday night. Wilson got a match penalty for intent to injure Seney after a hit from behind, but the Department of Player Safety ruled the hit was not a head shot and more of a glancing blow, deeming the penalty enough of a foul. Seney also returned to the game uninjured.

It's ridiculous. Wilson is a serial offender. He has no idea where to draw the line on hits and Stanley Cup champion/NHL Network analyst Alex Tanguay ripped him on the air Friday night for seeing Seney in his sights for several feet prior to the hit.

The ultimate lunacy came from rookie Caps coach Todd Reirden, who completely embarrassed himself, his organization and the league during his press conference Friday night. Reirden said Wilson wasn't even intending to make a hit and the play was "incidental contact" as Wilson tried to get out of Seney's way.

That's mind-bogglingly embarrassing. No way the league bought that. One issue is that this was not a severe hit and Wilson, as a serial offender, is supposed to get ascending penalties with each offense. Perhaps the league felt it could not go 20 or 25 games on this hit — and risk another reduction by an arbitrator — so it went with nothing at all.

No worries. Wilson has no idea where the line is, has no respect for opponents. He'll be back in front of Player Safety soon enough.

Around the boards

• With All-Star balloting open, the Sabres figure to have more than one player in the game for the first time since Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell and Ryan Miller all went to the 2007 game in Dallas. The Atlantic Division goalies almost certainly will be Carter Hutton and Toronto's Frederik Andersen. It's hard to imagine Jeff Skinner not being on the team and Jack Eichel certainly has a chance to go as well. So does coach Phil Housley, if the Sabres can get a lead in the division standings by the close of voting.

Four Sabres on All-Star ballot for Atlantic captain vote

• The NHL Board of Governors meet Monday and Tuesday in Sea Island, Ga., and it figures to be an historic meeting with Seattle likely to be awarded the league's 32nd franchise sometime Tuesday. Will we see a debut date set? While the folks in the Pacific Northwest are hopeful for 2020-21 to have Key Arena renovation, there's lots of talk it may not be until 2021-22.

• Three-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist Jennifer Botterill, the sister of Sabres GM Jason Botterill, has joined MSG Network as a studio analyst for New York Islanders games. Botterill is working with former Harvard teammate AJ Mleczko as an analyst along with studio host Shannon Hogan, giving the Isles an unprecedented three women as on-air personalities.

All of them are ultra-respected in hockey circles. Mleczko did such a good job for NBC last year on the Olympics in South Korea that she joined the network for the Stanley Cup playoffs last year and was asked to work some games this season. She did the Sabres' game against Tampa Bay in KeyBank Center on Nov. 13.

• When snow hit Cleveland last week, the city's police Twitter got its point across in an unusual way by tweeting, “NASA sent a space ship from Earth THREE HUNDRED MILLION MILES to Mars and landed it perfectly. You guys can drive in the snow. #SlowDown"

It was reminiscent of what the Edmonton police said early last month after what was clearly a frustrating run of icy incidents.

"Your vehicle is not as skilled on ice as Connor McDavid. Your tires are not skates. You cannot speed down a wintery road and expect your vehicle to make a hockey stop. Please drive according to the road conditions and your comfort.

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