There is no better way to really get to know a team, than to know what they’ve gone through, both highs and lows, in order to get to where they are today. Not only does the city of Pittsburgh have one of the richest hockey histories in the expansion era, but the city has one of the greatest hockey histories in North America. So, we’d love to share some of the Penguins history with you.
By: Greg Enright
Hopes were high for the Penguins as the 1986-87 NHL season got underway. Mario Lemieux was entering his third year and had established himself as an NHL superstar. Management had begun to build a supporting cast around him that would hopefully return the club to the playoffs after a four-year absence. Not even the most optimistic fans, though, could have anticipated the record-setting start the team got off to that year.
Things didn’t look good in game one when they fell behind 3-0 to the visiting Washington Capitals, but a hat trick from winger Randy Cunneyworth turned the tide and the Pens scored an impressive 5-4 victory. Two nights later defenseman Doug Bodger ripped a 60-foot howitzer past John Vanbiesbrouck in overtime to beat the Rangers 6-5 and the Penguins were rolling.
Bodger followed that up with two goals the next night in the intimidating Chicago Stadium and together with goalie Roberto Romano’s 39 saves, the Penguins won 4-1 to move to 3-0. “This should give the guys a little confidence,” said winger Warren Young “This was a big win in not an easy place.”
The Pens were rode that confidence to three more wins against the Kings, Sabres and Devils to tie the then-franchise record of most consecutive wins at six. To set a new club mark, they’d have to beat the Sabres again on Igloo ice. Stung by their 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Penguins five nights earlier, Buffalo came out with a fire in their belly, checking and roughing up the Pens at every turn and building a 4-2 lead through the first 55 minutes.
But when Buffalo rookie Jim Hofford took a late five-minute slashing major, Mario Lemieux went to work. After only a minute and a half of the ensuing power play, Number 66 had put two pucks past goalie Jacques Cloutier and tied the game. In overtime, Cunneyworth put home the winner midway through the frame and the Pens had a new team record winning streak. They were now only one win shy of tying the league record for most consecutive wins to start a season. To get there, though, they’d have to win the next one in Philadelphia, where they hadn’t come away with two points since January 1974.
As sweet as such a victory would have tasted, it wasn’t to be. Mark Howe notched a goal and three assists as the Flyers came out on top 5-3. The first loss of the season was tough for many Pens to take, including defenseman Moe Mantha. “We had a lot of momentum and a great attitude coming in here,” he told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette after the game. “That’s why it hurts so much.”
There would be more pain ahead for the 1986-87 Penguins. Despite their blazing start, the team was still a number of pieces away from becoming a legitimate contender. They would stumble to a 30-38-12 record, enduring a nine-game winless stretch in December. Pens fans would simply have to wait for better times down the road and remember the thrill of the streak that started the season.
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