The 2015-16 NHL season will be known as the one that ended an era. The entire nation of Canada was officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in a week short of 46 years when the Philadelphia Flyers won a shootout over the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals Wednesday, March 30.
The only other time the last Canadian team was eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs during the regular season was April 5, 1970. Canada only had only two teams at the time.
While a monumental occurrence, it was expected and inevitable this time. The Ottawa Senators entered the night with a tragic number of two as the only Canadian team still alive. The other six teams are all under .500, along with three of the 23 Americans teams. Seven of the worst 10 teams on the 2015-16 NHL season are from the nation that created and has dominated the sport.
What that win did that is truly significant is give the Flyers a two-point cushion for the final Eastern Conference wild card with a game in hand. They also have a game in hand over their only real competitor for that final spot, the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings would probably earn the tiebreaker and do host a game between the teams April 6, but Sports Club Stats already lists them at less than a 40 percent chance of making the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs. It would be the first time they have missed since 1990, the longest continuous postseason streak in major professional sports.
That was not supposed to happen. In surviving a scare during the 2014-15 NHL season, Detroit found enough young talent to augment some seasoned former champions and expect their postseason streak to remain intact moving forward. A new coach right out of their own system should not have changed that.
Meanwhile, Philadelphia is in a rebuild and entered the season with two questionable starting goalies. Instead, those goalies have combined for a respectable .921 save percentage and 2.41 goals-against average to go 38-25-13. Players getting the chance in the rebuild also deserve credit, particularly rookie Shayne Gostisbehere as its blue-line leader in shots (139), goals (16), assists (26) and takeaways (25).
What makes this even more impressive is the Flyers appeared content to play for the future when they traded Luke Schenn and Vincent Lecavalier for Jordan Weal and a third-round pick Jan. 6. They won the night before the trade and have gone 22-10-7 since it.
If they continue to do enough to make the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, it will be at the expense of the Red Wings. While not as historically significant as the elimination of all Canadian teams, it will be more surprising and perhaps more impressive.