Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Ten fun facts about the 1993-94 Maple Leafs' record start

Twenty-five​ years ago tonight,​ the​ streets​ of​ Toronto​ were​ flooded with​ delirious fans celebrating​ one of the​ greatest​ wins in the​​ city’s sports history. It was a truly epic moment, one that stills resonates to this day if you were lucky enough to be in the middle of it.

So today, let’s look back on the game that touched off that city-wide celebration: The Toronto Maple Leafs setting the NHL record for consecutive wins to start a season.

Oh, right, there was also some sort of baseball game that night. That was probably cool too. But since Canadian law dictates that everything has to be about the Maple Leafs at all times, I’m sure that most of those fans were there to celebrate the Leafs’ win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was the team’s ninth straight win to open the season, establishing a new record on the way to what would ultimately become the first 10-0-0 start in league history.

I’ve occasionally been accused of droning on endlessly about the 1992-93 season. But that’s unfair; I’m actually a multi-talented writer who can also drone on endlessly about the 1993-94 season. Let’s do that today, as we relive 10 fun facts about the Maple Leafs’ record-breaking start.

Fact #1: It all began with something strange: Actual optimism

Every Leafs season starts with generic optimism. You know the kind – the team comes out of the gate with one good period and suddenly everyone is making “plan the parade” jokes. But the 1993-94 season was different. For the first time in a generation, there was actually a legitimate reason to believe that the Maple Leafs might be good. And not just “sneak into the playoffs with 65 points because it’s the Norris Division” good. Actually, honestly, legitimately good.

The team headed into the season still riding the high off a 1992-93 playoff run that you’ve no doubt heard all about if you know any Maple Leaf fans, because we bring it up immediately whenever we’re asked a question like “What was your favorite NHL season?” or “How are you?” or “Why are you wearing that tattered Wendel Clark jersey and how did you get into my house?” With the reigning Jack Adams winner behind the bench in Pat Burns, the Hart Trophy runner-up on the top line in Doug Gilmour, and a Calder finalist in goal in Felix Potvin, there was plenty of reason to think the Leafs could build on that momentum and maybe even contend for a Cup.

Opening night featured a visit from the Dallas Stars. This was actually the first road game in Dallas NHL history, coming just a few days after the recently relocated Stars’ home opener (which readers may remember as the space cowboy fiasco). Dallas would turn out to be a decent team, finishing the year with 97 points. But on opening night, the Leafs handled them fairly easily on the way to a 6-3 win over a young Jon Gruden Andy Moog. Dave Andreychuk had two goals, Gilmour added three assists, and the streak had begun.

Fact #2: It was nearly over before it really began

The second and third wins both featured tight games and late winners. Wendel Clark’s goal with 10 minutes left in regulation held up in a 2-1 win over the Blackhawks for win No. 2, while a road trip to Philadelphia featured John Cullen’s tap-in with less than two minutes left.

That left the Leafs at 3-0-0, which was nice, but not especially remarkable; the Devils, Blues and Flames all started the season with three straight wins of their own.

Fact #3: Things got easier in Game No. 4

The streak didn’t feature many blowouts, but the Leafs did enjoy a laugher back at home for Game No. 4. They faced a Washington Capitals team headed into the opposite direction; the Caps would begin the year 0-6-0 as part of a slow start that would eventually cost coach Terry Murray his job.

On Oct. 13, the Leafs earned their fourth straight win by pumping the Capitals by a 7-1 final. Toronto got two goals apiece from Wendel Clark and Rob Pearson. That’s not all that interesting; I just like to remember that Rob Pearson existed. I thoroughly enjoyed the Rob Pearson era.

Speaking of 10-game streaks, this one featured future Leaf Don Beaupre giving way to a third-period relief appearance from a young Olaf Kolzig, who was still four years away from becoming a full-time NHL starter. From 1989 through 1994, he made 10 appearances for the Capitals, often in mop-up duty, and Washington lost every one. Kolzig didn’t get to participate in an actual NHL win until January 1995, almost six years after he’d made his debut.

Fact #4: The main event came in Games No. 5 and 6

With all due respect to the Stars, Hawks, Flyers and Capitals, most Leaf fans were already looking ahead to Oct. 15 and 16. That was when the schedule served up the season’s first rematch with the Red Wings, in an old-fashioned Norris Division home-and-home.

The Wings, of course, had been the team the Leafs had knocked off in the first round of the 1993 playoffs. That was viewed as an upset at the time, especially after Detroit had romped to blowout wins in Games 1 and 2, even though the two teams hadn’t finished all that far apart in the standings. Still, Toronto fans wouldn’t get too excited about their early-season success until the Leafs proved they could measure up against the Wings.

They did. The Leafs took the opener on home ice by a 6-3 final, scoring four times on 12 shots to chase Chris Osgood from his first career start. As with most home-and-homes from that era, the game ended with some message-sending, including an ugly stick-swinging incident between Bob Rouse and Bob Probert. Both players were handed four-game suspensions by Brian Burke.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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