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Dave Tippett, Ulf Samuelsson know how streaking Blue Jackets feel

Jan 4, 2017, 6:00 PM | Updated: 6:53 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner, left, forward William Karlsson, of Sweden, defenseman S...
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Boone Jenner, left, forward William Karlsson, of Sweden, defenseman Seth Jones, forward Scott Hartnell and forward Brandon Saad celebrate Karlsson's goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2017. The Blue Jackets won 3-1. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
(AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

There are many reasons to marvel at the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 16-game winning streak, which is one short of tying the NHL record. The Blue Jackets are doing this while playing in the NHL’s best division, the Metropolitan, which boasted four of the top five teams in the NHL standings as of Wednesday morning.

Six of the Jackets’ wins in this streak are by one goal, Columbus is a small-market team which ranks 20th of the 30 NHL teams in salary-cap hit, and the Jackets are also doing this without any recognizable superstars — and for an American audience, few recognizable players.

Sixth-round draft pick Cam Atkinson leads the team with 18 goals and 38 points in 36 games and is sixth in the NHL in points. Center Alex Wennberg is second with 34 points and Nick Foligno and Brandon Saad, who won a pair of Stanley Cups with Chicago, have 33. Fourteen Blue Jackets have at least 10 points.

“They’re as a good a team as we’ve seen,” said Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who believes the recipe for success starts with coach John Tortorella. “I give Torts a lot of credit. Their team is very balanced. You can’t point to any one thing or any one player that is dragging them along. It’s a good team effort. They’re very opportunistic. They capitalize on their chances and it just seems like every win comes easy.”

Tippett knows something of long winning streaks. He was a member of the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins team that set the NHL record for consecutive victories with 17, along with former Coyotes assistant coach Ulf Samuelsson, whose son, Henrik plays for Arizona’s AHL affiliate in Tucson. That star-studded Pittsburgh team featured a first line of Kevin Stevens, Mario Lemieux and former Coyote Rick Tocchet, and a second line of Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Joey Mullen.

The Penguins’ streak started on March 9, 1993 with a 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins. It ended in the final game of the regular season when Pittsburgh tied the New Jersey Devils, 6-6. There were some narrow escapes along the way, including five one-goal games.

“I scored a game-winning goal in Game 15 in overtime [against Montreal] to keep the streak going,” Samuelsson said, laughing. “For me personally, that was a big deal because I didn’t score more than two or three a year.”

While Tippett, a forward, and Samuelsson, a defenseman, both have fond memories of that streak, Tippett wonders if it was poorly timed.

“It was a lot of fun but in the end, in the playoffs it hurt us because it was right near the end of the year,” said Tippett, whose team lost to the New York Islanders in seven games in the second round of the playoffs. “We had the Presidents’ Trophy locked up and we probably should have been resting some guys but we were on the streak and kept winning so we felt like we had to keep pushing.”

Samuelsson isn’t so sure that was the cause of the Penguins’ collapse.

“You can always rest players but that can backfire, too. When you’re off one day you can feel a little rusty. When you’re off two days it can feel like you’ve never played,” he said. “I think when we lost that series against the Islanders we probably just didn’t have a 100 percent work ethic that series. We had an unreal team and we knew it but looking back, I could have played harder.”

Tippett admitted the pressure mounted with each game, particularly as the Pens got closer to the New York Islanders’ record of 15 straight wins set in 1981-82. At least the pressure mounted on certain players…

“The pressure wasn’t on me,” Tippett said, laughing. “When you’ve got Mario and Jagr and Francis, I just had to go out and do my penalty killing.”

Columbus will have to work hard to earn the record. The Blue Jackets can tie the Penguins’ record on Thursday in Washington D.C. against the division rival Capitals, who are fifth overall in the NHL standings at 55 points. If Columbus gets past that game, it can set the league mark with a home game against another division rival, the New York Rangers, who are third overall in the league standings at 53 points — five points behind the pace-setting Blue Jackets and three behind the Penguins.

“The key is to keep it internal, as I am sure they are, speak the normal hockey language and not worry about the streak,” Samuelsson said. “You just have to keep the focus on that game and worry about each day.”

Both Tippett and Samuelsson acknowledged that the Jackets’ streak is good for hockey because it draws attention to the sport, but Samuelsson isn’t rooting for Columbus to break the record.

“No,” he said. “I’d like to keep it in the Penguins family. At the same time, if they do it, I’ll tip my hat to them.”

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Of the six teams with the longest regular-season winning streaks in NHL history, only one has won the Stanley Cup, with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ fate still unknown.

17 games: 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins (lost in 2nd round of playoffs)
16 games: 2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets (playoffs pending)
15 games: 1981-82 New York Islanders (won Stanley Cup)
15 games: 2012-13 Pittsburgh Penguins (lost E. Conference Final)
14 games: 1929-30 Boston Bruins (lost Stanley Cup Final)
14 games: 2009-10 Washington Capitals (lost in 1st round)

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Dave Tippett, Ulf Samuelsson know how streaking Blue Jackets feel