by: Rob Rossi, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - Matt Niskanen knows what to make of the Penguins' home sellout streak.
“It's more than just a number,” Niskanen said. “It adds something.”
It has added up, too.
The streak hits 300 on Wednesday night. The NHL record belongs to Colorado at 487 (1995-2006) and the current best run is Toronto's at 409.
The Penguins will join the Steelers (348) in selling out at least 300 consecutive home games.
What started against the Chicago Blackhawks on Valentine's Day 2007 continues against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thanksgiving Eve — the date on the calendar that Pittsburghers have often viewed as the unofficial start to hockey season.
The streak has known as many Penguins head coaches (Michel Therrien and Dan Bylsma) and MVPs (Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin) as it has buildings (Mellon Arena and Consol Energy Center) and Stanley Cup Finals (2008 and 20 09).
The streak has welcomed Marian Hossa, Bill Guerin and Jarome Iginla; welcomed back Alex Kovalev; and thanked for the memories Max Talbot, Jordan Staal and Sergei Gonchar.
The streak has included a big announcement by Mario Lemieux and a big statue of him.
The streak did not include two “home” losses -- one in Stockholm and another at Heinz Field.
More than 5 million fans have attended games during the streak. The Penguins have won 66 percent of home games during the streak.
The Penguins never sold out an entire season during Lemieux's playing days. This season would mark a seventh consecutive of full houses.
“I knew Pittsburgh was a good hockey town, but maybe I didn't know how good of a hockey town it was,” St. Louis native and Penguins forward Joe Vitale said. “It kind of gets loud, even for warm-ups.”
Niskanen, who formerly played before a lot of empty seats in Dallas, said some of his teammates “could” take playing before capacity crowds for granted.
“It was a pleasant surprise when I came here,” he said. “I figured they had good fans, but I had no idea about this streak.”
He does now.
So does his coach, Dan Bylsma, who offered an example of the Penguins' home-ice advantage during the streak. On March 19, 2013: Niskanen scored the winner against Washington off a rush that followed two consecutive penalty kills in the third period.
“I remember the building shaking,” Bylsma said. “The buildup of the penalty kill, the crowd going crazy… and it felt like we had already scored the goal before the puck went into the net.
“You watched the replay, and the camera was shaking. You get that sense.”