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Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis

October 23, 2016
Wiping out huge deficits in a season finale? It's happened in a different way -- in hockey 46 years ago

By Michael Lewis Editor

Now, the likelihood of New York City FC overtaking the Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference race has two possibilities: slim and none.

After all, the teams would have to be on opposite ends of 7-0 results for that to happen because the red team has a superior goal differential entering Decision Day (plus 15 to plus 2), the final game day of the Major League Soccer season Sunday.

Hmmm. That 7-0 trashing the Red Bulls gave NYC FC way back in May seems to be the deciding factor.

Heck, City understands how steep a mountain it must climb. As its website, head coach Patrick Vieira and players haven't talked about catching their Hudson River Derby rivals but rather securing second place in the conference to avoid a mid-week knockout-round game Wednesday or Thursday.

Yet, a team overcoming a goal deficit on the last day of the regular season to secure a playoff berth has happened before, involving a New York team in another sport -- hockey.

That's right, the New York Rangers found themselves in the unenviable position of scoring many goals or sit out the National Hockey League postseason.

On April 5, 1970, the Rangers entered their final game against the Detroit Red Wings trailing the Montreal Canadiens in total goals, 242 to 237. The Rangers needed to win and score a minimum of five total goals and hope for some help from the Chicago Blackhawks, who took on the Habs later that night.

Lo and behold, the Rangers did just that, scorching the Red Wings' net nine times en route to a stunning 9-5 triumph at Madison Square Garden. Goal differential did not factor into the equation, so Rangers head coach, the crafty Emile Francis, tried to pour it on in the later stages by pulling Ed Giacomin for a sixth skater with his team in search of more goals while enjoying a 9-3 advantage.

This is what Gerald Eskenazi wrote in The New York Times in the next day's editions:

With one of their most important and strongest victories in their loss‐strewn 44‐year career, the Rangers wedged their way last night into the Stanley Cup playoffs on the final day of the tightest race in National Hockey League history.

The New Yorkers over whelmed the Detroit Red Wings, 9‐5 in the afternoon at Madison Square Garden. That tied them with the Montreal Canadiens for fourth place in the East Division at 92 points, and at victories with 38.

Then, hunched over their radios, the team late last night heard the Black Hawks score 10‐2 victory over the French men at Chicago. That gave the Canadiens a total of 244 goals —and the Rangers had 246. The total goals scored was the deciding factor since the teams were deadlocked in total points and victories.

(Eskenazi, by the way, covered the New York Generals and New York Skyliners in the National Professional Soccer League and the United Soccer Association, respectively, back in the late sixties; He even wrote a book about soccer, "The Thinking Man's Guide to Soccer").

The Rangers took an improbable 65 shots, more than they had attempted in their previous 2,613 games, Eskenazi reported.

In his story, Eskenazi wrote that "afterwards it seemed as if the fans were watching a form of science fiction -- only in this case truth was much stranger."

So, it overwhelming huge deficits can be done, although I certainly would not place a bet on Sunday's matches going askew. The Red Bulls have a better chance of blowing a two-goal late in their match at the Philadelphia Union than that happening. Heck, City has a better chance of defeating a team it has never beaten in its two years of existence.

Once intriguing footnote: The Times' story talked playoff tickets going on sale the next day with a top price of $12.50.

Wow! $12.50 as the top price for playoff tickets? That's certainly something we'll probably never ever seen again.

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