Tension in Six Cities
We're down to six NHL clubs vying for the final four playoff berths in the Eastern and Western Conferences, with the other 24 clubs watching.
Well, participating too, to some degree. If you view the "race" for the seventh and eighth playoff berths in the two conferences as truly exciting, then this is the week for you.
You could argue, in fact, that tonight's Montreal-New York contest at Madison Square Garden is the biggest game of the year for both teams.
If the Habs win in regulation, they're good to go for post-season competition. If not, it gets more complicated, and with injuries to key players like Mathieu Schneider and Andrei Markov, the snowball effect could become overwhelming.
The Rangers need a victory desperately, and the result of Florida's game in Philly will have an impact on this picture as well.
With the Habs and Rangers going head to head, it's a great time to recall one of the best finishes to an NHL regular season, or at least one of the wackiest. It's one of those hockey stories you're always looking for a reason to tell.
It was the last day of the 1969-70 season, and the Rangers trailed the Habs by two points for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division. The Canadiens had been Stanley Cup champions in 1968 and 1969, and it seemed that despite a disappointing season, they'd make it to the playoffs at the very least.
The first tiebreaker in those days, however, was goals scored. Not goal differential, but total goals scored. Goofy, huh? Like, why not total shots against or total attendance or fewest penalty minutes?
The Habs went into the final day with a five-goal cushion, so the Rangers knew they had to score early and often in their afternoon game with the Detroit Red Wings, which they did. They pounded 65 shots at Roger Crozier, and with a 9-3 lead, New York coach Emile Francis kept pulling goalie Ed Giacomin in an attempt to get more goals, knowing it didn't matter how many his team surrendered.
The Rangers didn't get any more, and the final score was 9-5, leaving the Canadiens in need of scoring five goals against Chicago that night. They could lose 25-5, but they needed those five goals.
They didn't get them. Trailing 5-2 in the third, the Canadiens starting pulling goalie Rogie Vachon and gave up five empty netters, ultimately losing 10-2 and missing post-season play for the only time between 1948 and 1995.
So the league has come a fair ways since then. Maybe the current system isn't perfect, with too many teams home and cooled out and too many others happily losing as many games as possible down the stretch.
Then again, the image of teams just trying to devise ways of scoring as many goals as possible on the final day of the season in order to make the playoffs does have some appeal. . .