Allow me to take you back to the year 1970, a simpler time in the NHL.
The 1969-70 season was coming to a close, with seven of the eight playoff spots already decided and only one game left to play in the regular season. The one remaining spot left was in the East Division, between the New York Rangers and the Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers had a 37-22-16 record, while Montreal held a 38-21-16 record.
If the Rangers defeated the Detroit Red Wings and the Canadiens lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, the teams would have identical records, and the fourth playoff spot in the East would be decided by a goals scored tiebreaker. The Canadiens led that category 242-237, so in order for the Rangers to make the playoffs they needed to win, as well as outscore the Canadiens by five goals – certainly not an easy feat.
On that final day of the regular season, the Rangers defeated the Red Wings 9-5 in the afternoon. Now with four more goals scored than Montreal, the Rangers had to hope that the Blackhawks defeated Montreal and held them to less than four goals that evening in Chicago. The Canadiens ended up surrendering five empty net goals and lost the game 10-2, which meant they missed the playoffs and the Rangers took the four seed, edging Montreal by two goals in the tiebreaker.
Why is this improbable feat so significant? Well, with Montreal coming in fifth and the Toronto Maple Leafs coming in sixth in the East, it marked the first time in NHL history that no Canadian team made the playoffs. That improbable event hasn’t taken place since, until this year.
Now with 30 teams in the league, seven of them in Canada, and 16 playoff spots up for grabs, there will be no playoff hockey north of the border for the first time since Montreal’s collapse in 1970. The difference is that it took an almost impossible scenario for no Canadian team to make the playoffs back in 1970. This year, no Canadian team came anywhere close to making the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers are in rebuild mode and are at the bottom of their respective conferences, which was to be expected. The Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames all found themselves in the playoffs last season in the Western Conference, but this season was a much different story. The Jets were plagued with injuries, the Canucks core was aging quickly and the Flames took a step back from an unexpectedly solid season. The Ottawa Senators also regressed from their wild card position in the Eastern Conference last season, but the biggest surprise was the Canadiens. This year, the Canadiens would love to be in the position of possibly making the playoffs on the last day of the regular season. An injury to star goaltender Carey Price crippled the Habs, and saw them go from one of the best teams in the league to the Eastern Conference cellar.
So if it seems weird to imagine a season of Stanley Cup playoff hockey without a Canadian team involved, it’s probably because most people on this campus weren’t born the last time it occurred.