DETROIT – The Tampa Bay Lightning have been atop the NHL for the majority of this season, running away with the Presidents' Trophy long before the season will end.
The Lightning boast a 59-15-4 record, just three wins shy of the league's regular season wins record of 62. The Detroit Red Wings set that record back in 1995-96 when they went 62-13-7 for a total 131 points. Sergei Fedorov led Detroit with 39 goals and 107 points -- he won the Selke Trophy that season.
However, the Red Wings and their fans would have gladly traded that record for a Stanley Cup championship. Despite the team's dominance that season, they fell to the Colorado Avalanche in six games in the Western Conference Finals. Detroit had to wait another year before bringing home the Cup.
That's probably why Lightning captain Steven Stamkos is downplaying it.
"If it happens, it happens, great. It's another story to write and something to talk about. But it really hasn't truly been the focus at all in this room. If it happens, it happens, then that's great and it means we're playing well and we're continuing to try to play well," Stamkos told NHL.com.
That 62-win season usually isn't threatened -- at least it hasn't been in the past 23 seasons -- until now. Tampa faces the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins to finish out their regular season campaign. They could at least tie the record with three wins. A 6-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Saturday did not help Tampa's chances.
The 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens held the regular season wins record at 60 before the Red Wings broke it nearly 20 years later. The Canadiens still hold the all-time single season points record of 132 because they had only 8 losses and 12 ties that season. Detroit was just one point short of breaking that record in 1996. The Lightning won't be able to surpass 130 points this season.
The Canadiens also achieved 60 wins in just 80 games and won the Cup that season. There are now 82 games on an NHL team's schedule, as was the case in 1995-96.
The difference between the 1995-96 Red Wings and Lightning is that the Red Wings had to settle for seven ties. They did not have the opportunity to win games in a shootout after the 5-minute overtime period (which was 5-on-5, not 3-on-3). The Lightning have six shooutout wins this season in games that would have counted as ties back in the 1990s.
In an odd sidenote, the Red Wings actually had the worst record in the league at the end of that 1976-77 season at 16-55-9. That's also Detroit's worst record in the history of the franchise.