Streaks are nice, championships are much better

Saturday March 9, 2013

Blowouts. Narrow margins of victory. Lucky breaks. Overwhelming opponents with superior skills.

Together, it all adds up to a pair of remarkable streaks, going on simultaneously in Chicago and Miami.

Yet, the funny thing about these testaments to consistent success is they don’t mean nearly as much if you don’t come out on top in the final game of the season.

Just ask the 2007 New England Patriots, who were 18-0 until they lost in the Super Bowl. Or the 2002 Oakland Athletics, whose 20-game winning streak might have been good enough to produce a best-selling book and the hit movie "Moneyball," but didn’t add up to a World Series championship. Or the 1979-80 Philadelphia Flyers, who put together the longest unbeaten run in North American sports history, a staggering 35 games.

In the final series of the year, the Flyers lost four games and won only two.

It was the New York Islanders who skated off with the Stanley Cup.

"Streaks are wonderful," said Bob "Hound Dog" Kelly, who was part of the record-breaking but runner-up Flyers. "But if you don’t win (a championship), it’s no good."

In Chicago, the Blackhawks were at least within sight of Philadelphia’s record, going into a game Friday night at last-place Colorado having earned at least one point in 24 consecutive games.

Down in Miami, the Heat were nearly halfway to the NBA record for consecutive wins, having won 16 in a row before they hosted the last-place Philadelphia 76ers on Friday.

Mindful that it will take 16 playoff wins to capture their second straight NBA championship, the Heat weren’t getting too worked up about some stellar play in March.

"We’re enjoying it," forward Shane Battier said, "but we have bigger goals."

The Heat still have a ways to go before they even start worrying about matching the 33 consecutive wins turned in by the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers, who were led by Hall of Famers Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain -- and, by the way, had a backup forward named Pat Riley, who just happens to be Miami’s team president these days.

Then again, LeBron James & Co. would love to emulate another accomplishment of that great Lakers team, which went on to capture the NBA title with a five-game wipeout of the New York Knicks in the finals.

The Blackhawks’ run comes with a bit of an asterisk, because they’ve actually lost three games along the way -- all in shootouts. Under NHL rules, that’s still worth a point, but that makes it a bit different from what the Flyers accomplished more than two decades ago.

During that streak, Philadelphia won 25 games and tied 10 others. There was no overtime until the playoffs, and the shootout was still a far-off creation. If the teams were tied after 60 minutes, that’s how it ended. Each got a point.

When Philadelphia’s streak ended, it happened with a thud. The Flyers were blown out at Minnesota by the North Stars, 7-1. But the Flyers bounced right back to win the next game; in fact, they didn’t lose two in a row until there were about two weeks left in the season, their only back-to-back defeats of the entire regular season.

The 1982 Atlanta Braves couldn’t avoid it. They started the season with a record 13 straight wins -- a mark since matched by the Milwaukee Brewers -- but slumped badly in the second half and barely made the playoffs. Not surprisingly, the Braves were swept by St. Louis in the NL championship series.

Perhaps the most striking example of a winning streak not being the true indicator of a season’s worth came way back in 1916. The New York Giants won 26 straight games -- a major league record that still stands -- on top of a 17-game streak earlier in the season. But they only finished fourth in the National League, seven games behind pennant-winning Brooklyn.

If the Blackhawks go on to take down Philadelphia’s record, that’s OK with the guys who helped set it.

"It wouldn’t bother me," Kelly said. "More power to ‘em. They’re a good team. They work hard."


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