Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

Phil Sheridan: For Flyers, desperate times and a faint ray of hope

If Peter Laviolette is right, if desperation is more powerful than momentum in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers should be locks to win Game 4 on Friday night at the Wachovia Center.

If Peter Laviolette is right, if desperation is more powerful than momentum in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Flyers should be locks to win Game 4 on Friday night at the Wachovia Center.

They couldn't be any more desperate.

Facing the disgrace of a series sweep on their home ice, it would be surprising if the Flyers didn't find a way to win at least one game. The sweep-avoiding win seems like a fairly common phenomenon. Nevertheless, according to WhoWins.com, which tracks such things, teams leading three games to none in a series complete the sweep about 65 percent of the time.

That is true across all three sports with best-of-seven series: the NHL, the NBA and Major League Baseball. The WhoWins.com records show that 282 teams have fallen behind three games to none. One of those teams, the Detroit Red Wings avoided a sweep with a 7-1 win over the San Jose Sharks Thursday night.

Of the other 280 teams, exactly three came back to win their series. The 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs were the first. The 1975 New York Islanders were next. The only non-hockey comeback was the most recent. The 2004 Boston Red Sox overcame a three-games-to-none deficit to the Yankees in the American League championship series.

It has never happened in the NBA. Never.

So that's it. Three of 280. That gives the Flyers just about a 1 percent chance of winning this series. So you may want to wait before scheduling any vacation time to follow the Flyers in the conference final round.

Looking for slivers of hope? Well, there is this. Just this spring, the eighth-seeded Montreal Canadiens came from a three-games-to-one series deficit to upset the top-seeded Washington Capitals. Then again, that serves as a fresh cautionary tale for the Bruins, too.

"You're starting to see that more and more now in this league because there is some parity and there never is full dominance," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "For us, it's just understanding that that last game is always the toughest to win, and we know that." The Flyers are actually in better shape at this very moment than any of three teams that defied probability to bounce back from 0-3.

Those '42 Maple Leafs were losing to the Detroit Red Wings, 3-2, in the third period of Game 4. The Red Wings were 15 minutes from closing out the series and winning the Stanley Cup. Syl Apps and Don Metz scored for the Maple Leafs, giving them a 4-3 win and starting them on the way to the first-ever comeback of its kind.

And the Flyers should feel a bit better off than the '75 Isles. In losing the first three games of a first-round series with Pittsburgh, the Islanders never had a lead. The Flyers have led for exactly 99 seconds in their first three losses to the Bruins. Oddly, the Isles never trailed the Penguins in Games 4 through 7.

Oh, and Game 7 was in Pittsburgh. The Flyers are trying to become just the second NHL club ever to pull the 0-3 comeback while winning Game 7 on the road.

And then there were the Red Sox. They had not won a World Series since 1918. They were playing the most successful franchise in baseball history. They lost Game 3 to the Yankees, in Fenway Park, by a humiliating 19-8. And they were trailing, 4-3, in the ninth inning of Game 4 with closer Mariano Rivera on the mound.

Those Red Sox knew desperation. Then pinch-runner Dave Roberts stole second and history was on the way to being made.

So what does all this mean to the Flyers?

Probably next to nothing. We know about those three teams because they pulled off the most difficult comeback possible. But they weren't mere flukes. The Maple Leafs won four Stanley Cups in the seven years after their '42 comeback. The Islanders were in just their third season of existence in '75, but already had the nucleus of the teams that won four consecutive Cups in the early 1980s. The Red Sox won the World Series in '04 and '07.

The Flyers surely have as much or more in common with the 277 teams that fell behind three games to none, lost their series and vanished into oblivion.

To join this very small Ultimate Comeback club, the recipe has to go something like this: With a boost from Simon Gagne, avoid the sweep at home. On Monday, steal one in Boston. On Wednesday, hold serve at home again and force a Game 7. And then, well, there is the obvious final step.

Sounds simple, right?

"We have to win one game," Laviolette said. "I think that's the first thing on the agenda, to get a win in the column."

As for desperation, the most important ingredient, there should be plenty of that to go around.

Published