The Norfolk Admirals, the AHL affiliate of the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning, set world professional hockey's longest winning streak at 19 when they defeated the Albany Devils 2-1 at Scope Arena in Norfolk, Va. on Friday, March 23.
Tyler Johnson grabbed the game winner with his 29th goal of the season, and the very next evening, he scored his 29th goal as the Admirals again took down the Devils, this time by a score of 4-3, to extend the winning streak to 20 games.
Twenty consecutive wins! I don't care if you're talking about peewee hockey—this record is impressive at any level in any sport.
The Admirals broke the previous record of 18-straight wins by the 1990 Peoria Rivermen of the IHL. In a good omen for the Admirals, the Rivermen went on to win their second IHL Turner Cup championship.
The Pittsburgh Penguins established the NHL's longest winning streak at 17 games during the 1992-'93 regular season.
The 1990-'91 Philadelphia Flyers hold world professional hockey's longest unbeaten streak at a remarkable 35 games, having won 25 games and tied 10 others. Remember, it wasn't until the 2005-'06 season when the NHL instituted shootouts thereby eliminating ties.
Incredibly, during the Admirals' streak only one game had to even go into overtime. The Admirals and Syracuse Crunch went to a shootout on Feb. 18, which was eventually won by the streaking Admirals, 3-2.
In analyzing the streak, I will highlight some notable statistics, select the closest games that threatened to end the streak and pick the three stars that excelled.
Streak span: Feb. 10-current (last lost to Springfield Falcons 4-2 on Feb. 5)
Goals scored: 82 for a 4.05 goals per game average
Goals against: 33 for a 1.65 goals against average
Power play: 28 for 102 for 27 percent
Penalty kill: 69 out of 83 killed for 83 percent
Another amazing stat is that the Admirals have won back-to-back-to-back games on three separate occasions during this amazing run.
In the AHL, teams routinely play three games in a row throughout the season. In the NHL, you can see teams losing energy in the second game in a back-to-back stretch. To not stumble in any of those third games is pretty unreal.
The last game in the latest of three consecutive contests resulted in a decisive 6-3 win to notch the Admirals' 15th-straight win.
Deep into the season, third game in a row, long winning streak in the balance and they went out and scored six goals.
Games That Threatened the Streak
Feb. 18: Syracuse Crunch (20-23-4-4 after game) at Norfolk (33-18-1-2 after game)
The Admirals dug themselves a 2-0 hole into the third period until defenseman Mark Barberio cut the lead in half.
Right-winger Richard Panik tied the game at two on the power play at the 9:02 mark and sent the contest into overtime.
Neither team could score in the extra frame, sending the battle into a shootout. The third round saw a do-or-die moment for the Admirals, who were down to their last shooter trailing 1-0 after a second-round tally by Crunch forward Jean-Francois Jacques.
Defenseman Mike Kostka cooly tied the shootout by scoring against netminder Iiro Tarkki in what would prove to be a crucial moment in extending the streak.
Rookie center Johnson also came up clutch in the sixth round, tying up the epic battle once again.
Michel Ouellet was the hero, tallying the shootout-winning goal in the ninth round of the contest. The 3-2 shootout win was the sixth in a row for the Admirals.
Will the Admirals win the Calder Cup?
Feb. 24: Norfolk (34-18-1-2) At Binghamton Senators (21-30-2-1)
The Admirals staged another comeback with their next meeting against the Senators. Norfolk fell behind 2-0 after the first period, but goals by Brandon Segal (14th) in the second frame and Evan Oberg (fifth) in the third period tied the game.
This led to the dramatic ending of the battle. With 30 seconds left in the third period, Pierre-Cedric Labrie beat Senator goalie Mike McKenna between the pads from the left faceoff circle after taking a rebound from a Tyler Johnson shot.
Both goalies were stellar in the contest, with McKenna stopping 36 of 39 shots and Admirals goalie Dustin Tokarski stopping 33 of 35 shots. The 3-2 win gave the Admirals their seventh-straight victory.
Feb. 25: Norfolk (35-18-1-2) At Hershey Bears (29-18-4-5)
This time, it was the Admirals who jumped out to an early lead in the first period, with goals by Barberio (eighth) and Ouellet (11th), to put them up 2-0.
The Bears scored a goal in the first period, and current point-scoring leader Chris Bourque (25 G, 59 A, 84 PTS) tallied another for the Bears in the second with the man advantage to notch the contest at two.
Still in the second period, the Admirals regained the lead at 3-2 on Segal's 15th of the season, but were matched by a Bears power-play goal to notch it at three.
Capping off an action-packed third stanza, Segal scored his 16th of the year and second of the game with the man advantage with a deflection on Barberio's shot that beat Bears goalie Braden Holtby five-hole.
Segal's tally proved to be the game winner, while giving the Admirals their eighth-straight win and tying their franchise record for most consecutive wins. The 4-3 win also tied the AHL record for most consecutive wins in a season.
Feb. 26: Norfolk (36-18-1-2) At Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (32-18-2-5)
The Admirals set their franchise record with their ninth-straight win in another back-and-forth, tight affair that saw the Admirals tie the game 1-1 late in the second period on a PP goal by Barberio.
Norfolk surged ahead 2-1 in the third frame on a Jean-Philippe Cote goal early in the third, his first of the year. (Cote had joined the team in mid-November.)
A game Bears squad refused to die, and notched the contest at two in the third period.
However, more late-game heroics ensued when right-winger Carter Ashton notched his 19th tally of the season on a rebound with the man advantage with just over two minutes left in the third period vanquishing the Bears 3-2.
Feb. 29: Hershey (29-19-4-5) at Norfolk (37-18-1-2)
The Admirals continued their winning ways with their 10th consecutive victory, beating the Bears 2-1 in another nail-biter.
Norfolk grabbed the lead in the second period on sniper Cory Conacher's 30th of the year on a power play.
The Bears tied the contest on a man advantage of their own halfway through the third, but minutes later LW Ondrej Palat scored the game-winner after taking a Johnson pass, skating around the Bears' defenders and wristing the deciding tally past netminder Braden Holtby just inside the right post.
Admirals goalie Jaroslav Janus outplayed Holtby, saving 29 of 30 shots while the Bears 'keeper stopped 18 of 20 shots.
March 23: Albany Devils (28-27-6-5) at Norfolk (46-18-1-2)
For the most part, the Admirals picked up fairly easy victories.
They were sitting at 18-straight wins—tied with the longest world professional hockey winning streak—prior to to this matchup with Albany, the first of a back-to-back series with the Devils.
Albany grabbed the lead in the first period, but 18 seconds later, Cote locked up the contest at 1-1.
The Admirals' march toward history and a 19th-straight win would not be denied as Johnson scored from in tight in the second period, converting a rebound after a shot and great individual effort by right-winger Panik.
The goal was Johnson's 28th twine bender of the season and extended his consecutive games scoring a goal streak to eight games and his point scoring streak to 11 games.
These Admirals like their streaks.
Norkolk's penalty-kill unit and goalie Jaroslav Janus (26 saves on 27 shots) were especially stingy on the evening, denying eight of nine Devils power-play chances. Devils goalie Jeff Frazee matched Janus' performance with 26 saves of his own (on 28 shots).
March 24: Albany (28-28-6-5) at Norfolk (47-18-1-2)
In a rematch from the previous night, the Devils were no less troublesome and pesky. Palat opened up the scoring in the first period with his seventh of the year, but the Devils countered on a short-handed goal in the first and on a power play in the second frame to take a 2-1 lead.
The Admirals then scored three-straight on goals from centerman Alex Killorn (first) late in the second period to tie it at two. Johnson scored on a power-play goal on a slap shot from the left circle early in the third frame.
Norfolk added an important insurance goal (and what proved to be the game-winner), stretching the lead to 4-2 on Alexandre Picard's sixth goal of the season with a tap-in with just over six minutes to play.
Albany made it interesting with a late goal to make it 4-3, but could get no closer as netminder Dustin Tokarski (34 saves on 37 shots) would not allow the game-tying goal to get by him. With his 76th career win, Tokarski set an Admirals record for career wins by a goaltender.
The win stretched the team's win streak to 20 games.
3 Stars During the Streak
Tyler Johnson, C
Johnson has one game-winner during the streak and appeared on eight of the 20 Three Stars lists with three First-Star selections.
More amazingly, Johnson has a current goal-scoring streak of nine games, scoring 11 goals since March 3 and a 12-game point scoring streak dating back to Feb. 26, during which he has tallied 24 points (11 G, 13 A).
During the Admirals' entire 20-game winning streak, Johnson has 33 points (14 G, 19 A).
For the season, Johnson is seventh in the AHL in scoring with 61 points (29 G, 32 A) in 67 games played.
Not too bad for a rookie.
Jaroslav Janus, G
On a team that has only surrendered a 1.65 GAA on a 20-game winning streak, either Janus or fellow goalie Dustin Tokarski would have to be selected as one of the Three Stars.
Janus gets the Second Star because of his stingy 1.45 GAA and .943 save percentage and because he was picked as one of the Three Stars (and three First-Star selections) in six of the 11 games he appeared in.
Janus gets the because of his superior GAA and save percentage he has over Tokarski (1.89 GAA, .928 save percentage). Tokarski recorded more shutouts (two) than Janus (one), but Janus still gets the nod here.
Cory Conacher, LW
Conacher has tallied the third-most points at 20 (9 G, 11 A) on the Admirals during the streak and has netted three game-winners.
He has also been selected as one of the Three Stars in four of the games, garnering First Star honors three times, tying him with Johnson, Janus and Mark Barberio.
For the season, Conacher ranks second in the AHL in scoring with 72 points (34 G, 38 A).
Honorable Mention Stars
Richard Panik, RW
Panik just missed out on the top three because he had no game-winners. I placed a lot of importance on scoring the decisive goal and helping the team continue the streak. Panik had none while Conacher had three.
Panik has tallied the second-most points on the Admirals with 21 (8 G, 13 A) and has been a very solid contributor to the streak.
Mark Barberio, D
A key figure on the Admirals' blue line, Barberio has helped shut down opponents' offenses and has contributed 17 points (5 G, 12 A) during the run.
He has been on four Three Star lists and has received top spot three times. He also has tallied one game-winner.
Despite being a defenseman, Barberio ranks 16th in the AHL in scoring with 56 points (11 G, 45 A).
Ondrej Palat, LW
Palat has amassed 16 points (4 G, 12 A) during the streak and scored one game-winning goal. He was selected to be one of the Three Stars four times with two first-place nods.
Will the Streak Continue?
There's one thing I do know for sure. The Admirals will be hard-pressed to match Jahangir Khan's streak of 555-straight wins in squash from 1981-1986. The record stands as the longest recorded winning streak in professional sports history.
If the Admirals win on Wednesday and extend their winning streak to 21 games, they will match the New England Patriots' run over the 2003 and 2004 seasons and the used-to-be-good Chicago Cubs of 1935.
Norfolk has a lot of work to do to catch the amazing feat of the 1971-1972 Los Angeles Lakers who won 33-straight games.
Next up for the Admirals is a very tough task, with a two-game set against the St. John's IceCaps, who currently have the AHL's third-most points with 86. The IceCaps (39-19-5-3) boast the league's third-ranked power-play unit at 21.4 percent and will provide a staunch test to the Admirals' quest to keep the run going.
The streak has, above all else, helped the Admirals already clinch a playoff berth and establish a firm grip on first place in the Eastern Conference with an 11-point lead over their closest pursuers—the IceCaps—and a 12-point lead over the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the East Division.
With only eight regular-season games remaining, the Admirals are in excellent position to maintain the No. 1 seed and get home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Skating around with the Calder Cup will lessen any pain felt by the ending (should it happen this season) of the streak.