Always next year

Has there ever been a bigger late-season collapse than this Leafs one?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs were embarrassed again last night. A 7-1 home loss to the Flyers was just the latest dreadful performance in what’s been one of the most monumental late-season collapses in NHL history.

Since Feb. 6 – when the Leafs were 28-19-6 and on the way to their first playoff appearance since 2003 – they’ve gone 5-17-3 without a single victory at the Air Canada Centre.

They haven’t just lost games either — they’ve lost them spectacularly. Five of them by four goals or more. One 8-0.

“It doesn’t get much more embarrassing than that,” Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said after last night’s 7-1 defeat. “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.”

There have been similar, and arguably worse, collapses in other sports. The 2011 Red Sox lost 18 of their final 24 to blow a nine-game lead over the Rays, topping it off with a blown save in the final game of the season. The 2007 Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games left. The 1993 Dolphins started 9-2 and finished 0-5 to miss the playoffs.

But what about NHL late-season collapses that resulted in teams missing the playoffs? The 2006-07 Oilers were 28-24-4 on Feb. 11 and went 4-19-3 down the stretch, but they didn’t fall out of a playoff spot. The 2002-03 Penguins fell apart, but their fall started in January, so calling it a “late-season” collapse is a bit of a stretch.

Anyway, if any of you can think of (or Google) something, please share it in the comments section. Maybe we’re missing an obvious one.

Video: Canucks escape Arizona with another win for the moms

at Pepsi Center on February 9, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.
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With their mothers traveling on the road trip — Matt Bartkowski‘s mom, Beth, has become a cult hero in Vancouver after another priceless media interview — the Canucks took back-to-back wins, moving them right back into the thick of the playoff fight in the Western Conference.

After beating the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday, the Canucks held on for the 2-1 victory in Arizona on Wednesday, despite being without Brandon Sutter (broken jaw), Alex Edler (broken fibula) and Derek Dorsett, who was scratched from the lineup due to illness, as per Sportsnet’s Dan Murphy.

It was only a few days ago, following a home loss to the Calgary Flames, that it felt like the Canucks’ playoff hopes were essentially dashed. They fielded their healthiest lineup in months and couldn’t score and couldn’t win.

Two quick wins later, they’re two points out of a Wild Card spot in the West, despite getting outshot in Arizona.

Up by a goal in the third period, defenseman Alex Biega played the hero, pulling the puck out of the crease after it got by Ryan Miller on a backhand shot from Kyle Chipchura, maintaining Vancouver’s lead.

Phaneuf burned on Zetterberg game-winner in Sens debut

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A day after getting traded out of Toronto, Dion Phaneuf made his Ottawa Senators debut.

It ended with a 3-1 road loss for the Senators, and Phaneuf getting burned by Henrik Zetterberg on the eventual game winner early in the third period.

Zetterberg picked up the puck near the Ottawa blue line, beat Phaneuf to the outside, slipped the puck under the stick of the Sens’ newest blue liner and quickly roofed his shot on Craig Anderson.

“He made a real good play and you’ve got to give credit when credit is due,” Phaneuf told the Ottawa Sun.

“I put my stick there, he put (the puck) under and he made a good shot. I’ve got to have a better stick in that situation, but you’ve got to give him credit for that play.”

Phaneuf finished the night with a minus-one rating and two hits in almost 22 minutes of ice time, putting him second among Sens defensemen in that category behind Erik Karlsson, who played a whopping 33:30.

Phaneuf drilled Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser with a hard slap shot early in the third period.

DeKeyser played one more shift — all of 10 seconds — before exiting the game.

Video: Rangers shut out red-hot Sidney Crosby and the Penguins

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The New York Rangers are likely too far behind the Washington Capitals to take any legitimate run at the Atlantic Division down the stretch.

But winners now of four straight, the Rangers have opened up a bit of a gap between them and other Eastern Conference teams in the playoff race. New York scored a 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners in six of their last seven games, on Wednesday.

In the process, they held a red-hot Sidney Crosby off the score sheet, which has been a difficult, sometimes impossible task for opposing teams since about the middle of December. He entered this game with a seven-game scoring streak.

(In fact, New York held No. 87 to without a shot on goal in the entire game.)

Henrik Lundqvist stopped all 34 shots he faced for the shutout.

Kevin Hayes gave the Rangers the lead in the first period, before Dominic Moore and Jesper Fast put the game away in the third.

Pittsburgh remains in the second Wild Card spot in the East. The Rangers now move three points clear of the rival Islanders for second in the Metropolitan.

Video: Wideman hearing ‘a tricky case’ as NHLPA hopes to get 20-game suspension reduced

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There is no certain timeline for when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman might rule on Dennis Wideman‘s appeal, according to a report from hockey insider Darren Dreger on NBCSN, as the Calgary Flames defenseman hopes to get his 20-game ban for hitting linesman Don Henderson reduced.

“Now, ultimately what they’re hoping from a Wideman perspective and the Players’ Association is that commissioner Gary Bettman will rule and he will reduce the number of games suspended down from 20,” said Dreger during a segment on NBCSN.

“Is he going to reduce it by three games? Five games seems a bit of a stretch. And when might he do that? There’s no timeline on this.”