Some records stand for so long, you forget they even exist, let alone entertain the notion someone could actually break them.
One of these mythical marks is Reggie Leach’s record of 19 goals in a single playoffs, which he set 42 years ago while a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. However, Winnipeg Jets’ superstar centre Mark Scheifele clearly didn’t get the memo that the record is not meant to be broken.
Mark Scheifele has 12 goals in 13 playoff games. Catching up with the man whose record he is chasing, the Riverton Rifle himself, 1976 Conn Smythe winner Reggie Leach: https://t.co/zSQV8wKBIB #StanleyCup #TSN pic.twitter.com/J0vH7o65bG
— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) May 14, 2018
Scheifele’s been on a torrid pace this postseason. With 14 goals in 15 playoff games so far, he’s shooting to set a new scoring record.
Looking Back at Leach’s Feat
The 1976 Stanley Cup Playoffs were legendary for Leach. The “Riverton Rifle” — who played in nearly 1000 NHL contests and tallied 666 points between 1970 and 1983 — scored 19 goals in just 16 games.
Leach was a consistent scorer in the ’76 postseason, notching a goal in 10 straight matches. However, five of those came during an outstanding single-game performance that will live forever as one of the best of all time. On May 6, he potted a handful of goals against the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Semifinal series.
Hilariously, Leach was almost scratched from the lineup due to an argument with head coach Fred Shero the day before. His jaw-dropping play wasn’t enough to help the Flyers hoist the Cup, but he was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy (most valuable player in the playoffs) — one of only five all time to be bestowed with the honour as a member of the losing team.
An interesting aside: my older brother played against Leach in a rec-league game a few years ago. My brother told me Wednesday that “the guy can still shoot,” despite being in his 60s.
Jarri Kurri tied Leach’s record as a member of the dynastic Edmonton Oilers in 1985, but it took him two more games to do it.
Scheifele’s Smoking Hot Spring
Scheifele hasn’t had an eye-popping five-goal game like Leach had back in the day, but he’s undoubtedly been the cornerstone of the Jets’ run to the Western Conference Final. Game in, game out, he’s contributed — and his glittering numbers prove it.
In addition to his 14 goals and five multi-goal games (one of which came in Wednesday’s Game 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights), he also has six assists, is scoring on roughly one-third of his shots, and is logging nearly 20 minutes per game on the Jets’ top line. He set a record for most goals on the road in a single playoff series by notching seven at Bridgestone Arena during the Jets’ back-and-forth, exceedingly exciting second-round series against the Nashville Predators — one the Jets won in seven games.
Blake Wheeler and Patrik Laine and Dustin Byfuglien are great and all but Mark Scheifele is the Jets’ best player by a decent margin and he only makes $6.125M for the next six seasons.
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) May 11, 2018
“It’s just unreal,” Bryan Little said of Scheifele’s playoff performance after their Game 1 win over the Golden Knights. “He’s done everything you could ask of him.”
Scheifele’s Record Depends on How Deep Jets Go
It’s one thing to simply look at Scheifele’s goal numbers and say, “yep, he’s got a shot.” It’s another thing altogether to break down the numbers and analyze whether his chance of rewriting the record book is really feasible. The biggest factor is how deep the Jets go.
Scheifele has between two and eleven games left to play. In the worst-case scenario — in which the Jets lose Games 4 and 5 to the Golden Knights and are eliminated — setting the record would be a long shot unless he can unleash his inner Leach and pot five in one of them.
In the scenario where Scheifele plays eleven more games — in which they would have to win the Western Conference Final in seven and also play seven in the Stanley Cup Final — Leach’s record suddenly doesn’t seem so set in stone.
Doing the Math
At the risk of angering the hockey gods, let’s assume Scheifele and crew advance — as that’s likely needed for him to break Leach’s record.
Advancing would give the 25-year-old a minimum of seven and a maximum of eleven games left to play. For fairness, I’m using the median, which is nine.
As previously mentioned, Scheifele has 14 goals in 15 games. That’s an average of .933 goals per game. Assuming he keeps up his current pace, .933 times nine equals 8.397. That figure plus 14 would give him 22.397 goals, better than Leach’s number by just over three goals.
There’s a huge caveat to these numbers, of course. The Jets advancing is not a foregone conclusion by any means. They’re down two games to one to the Golden Knights after losing 4-2 Wednesday night.
Leach Is a Good Sport
Leach is well aware Schiefele is sniffing around his record and is taking it in stride. In fact, he has high praise for the centre.
“I’ve been watching all the games,” Leach told TSN’s Frank Seravalli. “If he breaks it, he breaks it. I give him a lot of credit, Scheifele has had a wonderful year. He is a very talented player.”
He won’t be bitter if Scheifele does end up besting his long-standing achievement.
“If he breaks it, I will be the first one to call him and congratulate him,” Leach continued. “Records are made to be broken, right? It’s been a good run.”
If Scheifele doesn’t end up breaking the record, it doesn’t lessen the impact of his highly productive postseason — undoubtedly the first of many as the Jets are poised to compete for years to come. If he does, Leach’s prolific playoffs — in an era where with one fewer round than the present day — will still be rightly remembered for its greatness.