December 20, 2010
Something miraculous, by NHL standards, happened when the Dallas Stars defeated the Detroit Red Wings Sunday night at the Joe: an opponent rallied to overcome a deficit after two periods to win a game.
For all the talk of parity and offensive fluidity and the unpredictability of NHL 2.0, if your team is trailing after the first 40 minutes it's probably going to be trailing at the final buzzer, too.
As of Monday, there have been 487 games played in the NHL regular season. Teams have rallied in the third period to win 50 times, or 10.3 percent of the time. If you take out games like the Dallas Stars' victory that occurred in overtime or the shootout, that number tumbles dramatically: There have only been 19 instances in which teams have rallied from a 2-period deficit to win a game in regulation.
So if you have the popcorn popped and the beverage chilled for the third period, and your team is entering the final frame trailing their foes, please know that there is about a 96.1 percent chance they're not going to rally to win in regulation. So, like, go catch up on your DVR viewing until OT rolls around. Or say hi to your family for once. One of the two.
NHL teams are rallying in the third slightly less than they were last season. In the 2009-10 regular season, teams rallied from 2-period deficits to win the game 11.6 percent of the time; in 2010-11 at this point in the season, it's at 10.3 percent.
(Ed. Note: The original numbers failed to divide the total number of games by two, since there are two teams in every game. This is because the author is a dumbass. Thanks to the commenters for the fix.)
Either way, third-period rallies aren't exactly commonplace.
UPDATE: Our buddy Matt Barr in the comments takes our general point and applies it specifically:
There have been 377 games this year in which a team has had a lead going into the third period. The team leading after two has won 327 of those games, making the likelihood that a team leading after two will win about 87%. The 50 games in which the trailing team has won (13%) include only 19 (5%) won by the trailing team in regulation.
Who are the NHL's best closers? Glad you asked. Via NHL.com, the top 15 teams (via winning percentage) when leading after two periods in 2010-11:
Here at the top "closers" for 2009-10:
So nine teams from last year's top 15 reappear on this season's list through Dec. 19; and there's a common denominator for many of them.
Like Ryan Miller(notes) of the Buffalo Sabres. And Roberto Luongo(notes) of the Vancouver Canucks. And Jonathan Quick(notes) of the Los Angeles Kings. And Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) of the Pittsburgh Penguins. And for teams that are only on this year's list, Henrik Lundqvist(notes) of the New York Rangers and Tim Thomas(notes) of the Boston Bruins.
In a League where the importance of the star goalie has been diminished a bit, it's clear they still have a huge impact when the game's on the line.
Others have their own specific factors. The Washington Capitals, when they aren't mired in an offensive rut, can build multi-goal leads entering the third. The Philadelphia Flyers have outscored opponents 42-21 in the second period, overcoming deficits or expanding their own leads. The Minnesota Wild are tied for 10th in first-period scoring with 29 goals, having given up only 21 in the first 20 minutes of play.
The one we can't figure out? The Ottawa Senators. They've been outscored in every period by opponents. They don't have what you'd call dominant goaltending. Yet when they enter the third period with a lead, they've been golden for the last two seasons.
Maybe it's the Cory Clouston factor? How much does coaching play into this?
Finally, because we know you're wondering: The teams that simply can't rally from a 2-period hole:
Any wonder why the New Jersey Devils are where they are? Brutal.