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Flyers’ late season collapse not the rarity you might expect

Photo Credit: Heather Barry

The current eight-game losing streak to what on paper appeared to be clearly inferior teams has irked a lot of Flyers fans. The season, outside of a miracle, will be over in under a week’s time. Whether the streak ends up being nine, ten or even eleven games to close out the year now is irrelevant. Basically, might as well root for the losses now: the more losses, the more of a chance at a higher draft pick in the first round this 2024 NHL draft.

So while some people call for head coaching changes, personnel changes or just a complete scorched earth rebuild, it’s not the first time in NHL history a team has fallen apart this badly this late. There are definitely teams (much more talented I might add) that have looked playoff-worthy 60 to 70 games in and then completely fell apart. Boston, Toronto (a few times), the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver are just some of the teams that have gone through what the Flyers are going through now: seeing a missed opportunity at post-season play. Here then in no particular order are some of the more infamous finishes that saw teams completely collapse. (Thanks to hockeydb and hockey-reference for the statistical info.)

Toronto Maple Leafs 2011-2012

On Feb. 15, 2012 the Leafs beat the Oilers 4-3 in overtime to sit at 29-23-6, well within playoff positioning after snapping a four-game losing streak. The Leafs then lost their next six games before winning in Montreal 3-1 in their 65th game, their first victory with new head coach Randy Carlyle after Ron Wilson was fired in early March. “I’ve had dips, I’ve had slumps, I’ve had rough patches,” Leafs general manager Brian Burke said at the presser introducing Carlyle (thanks LeafsNation). “But this is akin to an 18-wheeler going right off a cliff. And I’ve never seen it before in my life. I don’t know what happened? I’ve never experienced this.”

It was then, despite the new coach, the wheels truly fell off the Leafs wagon as Toronto would lose their next five contests including shutouts to the Flyers and Capitals back-to-back. A brief two-game winning streak followed and then things got much worse for Leafs nation. An 8-0 drubbing at the hands of Boston on March 19, 2012 (game 73) was followed 10 days later with a 7-1 thumping by the Flyers.

“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said after the Flyers game according to NBC Sports. “It’s one of those situations right now where it seems like no matter what we try to do it’s just not working. We’re having a tough time getting through it right now.” The Leafs ended up with 80 points on the year, 12 points behind the eighth-seeded Ottawa Senators.

Vancouver Canucks, 2007-08

Coached by Alain Vigneault (name rings a bell), the Canucks had wrapped up a three-game winning streak on March 20, 2008 by beating Edmonton 4-1 in game 74. Vancouver had a record of 38-26-10 and were basically not just a guarantee to make the playoffs but seemed more concerned with their positioning. Then came four consecutive losses to Minnesota (twice), Colorado and Calgary.

A 6-2 win over Calgary in game 79 should have stopped the bleeding. It didn’t. The Canucks lost to Colorado and Edmonton before being blown out in the season finale 7-1 to Calgary. Vancouver missed the playoffs and were tied with Edmonton and Chicago with 88 points, three points back of Nashville who squeaked into the first round. “We all knew we were capable of more.… It’s still tough to swallow,” goalie Roberto Luongo said as the team cleared out their lockers according to the CBC. “It will be good to be away from Vancouver to get over the disappointing ending.”

Toronto Maple Leafs, 2013-14

The Toronto Maple Leafs learned their lesson from the 2011-12 collapse down the stretch. In fact, they managed to hone the collapse to be more disasterous in 2013-14. On March 13, 2014 the Leafs beat the Kings 3-2 to stand at 36-24-8, good for 80 points after playing 68 games. They had at that time a nine-point cushion in terms of making the playoffs and were in third place in the East. Then the wheels and riders fell off the wagon which was hit by an oncoming train on fire during a tornado. Washington, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Montreal, New Jersey, St. Louis, Philadelphia and Detroit all handed the Leafs regulation losses. That’s eight consecutive regulation losses!

The Leafs tried to right the ship with wins against Calgary and Boston but lost their last four games of the year to Winnipeg, Tampa Bay, lowly Florida and Ottawa. Two wins in their last 14 games resulted in the Leafs out of the playoffs with 84 points. “We are embarrassed by what just went down,” Carlyle said to CBC at the end of the season..

Dallas Stars, 2017-18

The Dallas Stars were victorious over Anaheim in game 68 with a 2-1 win, leaving them with a rather impressive record of 38-24-6 on March 9. Then everything went wrong. Very, very wrong. The Stars lost their next eight games (Penguins, Canadiens, Leafs, Senators, Jets, Capitals, Bruins and Canucks) with only two of those games earning them a loser point. The Kings beat the Flyers 3-2 in overtime on March 27, 2018 to halt the streak. But by then the damage was already done.

Dallas went 2-3 the rest of the way and finished sixth in the Central Division with 92 points, out of the playoff picture under head coach (and former Flyers head coach) Ken Hitchcock.

Los Angeles Kings, 2003-04

Going into game 71 on March 14, 2004 the Kings had a record of 27-20-16, good for a playoff position. Game 71 was a convincing 5-1 win over Anaheim which should have only helped them get to the post-season. But as you can probably guess….

The Kings never won another game the rest of the season, losing out the rest of the way and gathering a mere two loser points: an overtime loss to Calgary on March 27 and another overtime loss to San Jose in the season finale. Eleven consecutive losses including three to the Sharks, two to Edmonton and two to Calgary was enough to put the Kings at 81 points and third in the Pacific Division. They were 10 points back of both Nashville and St. Louis who both made the playoffs.

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