Today: Best comeback games of the 2012-13 season
Playing with a lead usually is a good thing if you're an NHL player -- but not always.
Being ahead can lead to complacency -- and what a number of teams learned during the 2012-13 season is that the minute you take your foot off the gas, the opposition can zip right past you.
Several teams learned that lesson the hard way. Here is a sampling of a few of the biggest comebacks of the 2012-13 season, in chronological order:
Feb. 6 -- Edmonton Oilers 6, Colorado Avalanche 4
The Avalanche were terrible guests at Rexall Place, taking a 3-0 lead when Jamie McGinn scored with 48.8 seconds left in the first period. A boarding call on Colorado's Cody McLeod and a fortuitous bounce off Avalanche defenseman Matt Hunwick allowed Ales Hemsky to score with 3.1 seconds left in the first, but the Avalanche still led by two goals after 20 minutes and went back up by three when John Mitchell scored a power-play goal at 6:24 of the second.
That would be the last shining moment for Colorado; Edmonton unleashed an avalanche of offense, scoring five times in the final 24 minutes. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins started it with a goal with 4:01 left in the second, and after Hemsky's second of game pulled the Oilers within a goal after two periods, Jordan Eberle's power-play goal from the left post at 8:58 of the third tied the game. Just when the teams appeared poised to go to overtime, Ryan Smyth made a great one-handed pass through the crease to Magnus Paajarvi, who scored the winner with 1:34 remaining. Eberle added an insurance goal 25 seconds later for the final margin.
"It was a crazy game, a fun atmosphere," Eberle said. "The crowd was in it and [Hemsky's] second goal to make it 4-3 was huge."
March 31 -- Philadelphia Flyers 5, Washington Capitals 4 (OT)
As the regular season was about to enter its final month, the Flyers and Capitals arrived at Wells Fargo Center desperate for points. For most of two periods, the Capitals showed their desperation level was a bit higher. Matt Read had given the Flyers a 2-1 lead after one period, but Mike Green scored with 1:18 left in the second to tie it, then Marcus Johansson and Alex Ovechkin added power-play goals 26 seconds apart six minutes into the third to give the Capitals a 4-2 lead.
Exactly six minutes after Ovechkin scored, Flyers captain Claude Giroux replied with a power-play goal to get the Flyers back within one, then with 9.5 seconds left, Giroux sent a pass out to Kimmo Timonen, whose one-timer from above the circles got past goalie Braden Holtby to tie the game.
Philadelphia completed the comeback 94 seconds into overtime when Ruslan Fedotenko finished a cross-ice give-and-go in the Washington end.
Ovechkin admitted his team got too conservative once it got the lead.
"We stayed back and we tried to play safely and they used it," he said.
April 17 -- Buffalo Sabres 3, Boston 2 (SO)
This one wasn't about a comeback in a game as much as it was the comeback of an entire city. When the Sabres arrived at TD Garden, it marked the first hockey game in Boston following the Boston Marathon bombings two days earlier. The emotions of the night spilled out before the game started, when longtime Bruins anthemist Rene Rancourt received spontaneous help from a sold-out crowd in singing the national anthem.
Buffalo's Cody Hodgson tipped in a Thomas Vanek pass for a power-play goal with 26.6 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, then the Sabres' Drew Stafford scored the only goal of the shootout to give the Sabres two points. However, players from both teams were more caught up in the moment than the final outcome.
"The first five minutes after that [opening tribute] video, you're just kind of like … the magnitude of what happened just hits you," Sabres goalie Ryan Miller told the team's website that night. "Being in the city probably just a little bit more, because everybody has a story, and you're seeing people affected by it. Again, our hearts go out to everyone that's been affected because it's terrible."
Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference told reporters, "We all knew that tonight was more than just another game. It meant a lot to people as another step [in the healing process] and it was no different for us on the ice trying to have some remembrance of the last couple days, but also move on as well to getting back to business in this city."
May 3 -- New York Islanders 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 3
Few gave the Islanders much hope of beating the Penguins in their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series, especially after they lost 5-0 in Game 1. It was expected to be worse for the Islanders when it was revealed that Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, out since breaking his jaw March 30, would be in the Game 2 lineup.
Then it took Crosby less than eight minutes to assert himself, scoring a pair of goals as the Penguins took a 3-1 lead after one period.
But the Islanders wouldn't go away. Colin McDonald took a puck away from Paul Martin behind the Pittsburgh net and slid a backhander under goalie Marc-Andre Fleury at 5:12 of the second to make it a one-goal game, and Matt Martin scored off a rebound at 10:37 to tie it 3-3.
Then, at 12:23 of the third, Kyle Okposo spun around between the circles and fired a shot wide of the Pittsburgh net, but the shot caromed off the back wall, hit the back of Fleury and trickled into the net to give the Islanders a 4-3 lead, one they made stand up to even the series.
"We've done a lot of growing and maturing this year as a team," Islanders forward Matt Moulson said. "It doesn't seem like we ever give up, and we've been through all different scenarios throughout the year -- down, up -- and we've found ways to get wins. Tonight was another example of that."
May 6 -- Los Angeles Kings 4, St. Louis Blues 3
After dropping the first two games of the Western Conference Quarterfinal against the St. Louis Blues, the Los Angeles Kings got back into the series with a 1-0 win in Game 3. But they showed their championship resolve in coming from behind twice to win Game 4 and even the series.
A wild first period saw David Backes and T.J. Oshie score in the first 4:32 of the game to give the Blues a 2-0 lead and quiet the Staples Center crowd, but Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner scored just less than five minutes apart to tie the game after one period.
Oshie's goal at 5:46 of the second put the Blues ahead after 40 minutes, and the lead held until the second half of the third. Dustin Brown won a battle along the boards in the St. Louis end and threw a pass in front that Anze Kopitar tipped past goalie Brian Elliott at 7:14; then, 1:16 later, Mike Richards won a board battle and threw a puck on net that Justin Williams tipped past Elliott to give the Kings a 4-3 lead.
"We're an experienced team," Williams said. "We've been through a lot, and we knew we needed a response. We were down a goal, facing a daunting task of going to St. Louis down, 3-1. But we found it within ourselves. Certainly being through it before, last year, and having experience with the same group in here in pressure situations lets us know that we can do it."
The come-from-behind win proved to be the turning point of the series. The Kings won Game 5 in overtime and closed the series in Game 6 in Los Angeles.
May 13 -- Boston Bruins 5, Toronto Maple Leafs 4 (OT)
It was a game that broke a city's heart while it sparked another team's run to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a game that anyone who watched it will remember -- unless you're a Maple Leafs fan and you're doing your best to block it out of your memory.
The Maple Leafs had won Game 5 in Boston and Game 6 at home to force a decisive Game 7 at TD Garden. Toronto came out full of energy. A pair of goals by Cody Franson gave the Maple Leafs a 2-1 lead after two periods, and they kept piling it on in the third, with Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri making it 4-1 with goals in the first 5:29.
Nathan Horton's goal at 9:18 made it 4-2, but the real craziness came in the final 82 seconds of the third. With Tuukka Rask pulled for an extra attacker, Milan Lucic camped in front of the Toronto net and batted the rebound of a Zdeno Chara shot past goalie James Reimer to make it a one-goal game. Thirty-one seconds later, Patrice Bergeron's wrist shot from the bottom of the Stanley Cup Playoffs logo went through a Chara screen and past Reimer to tie it.
The Bruins finished the gargantuan comeback 6:05 into overtime when the Maple Leafs couldn't clear a puck in front and Bergeron banged it in.
"We stayed resilient -- I guess that's what I can say," Bergeron said. "We found a way. … We showed some character coming back in the game and we found a way in overtime."
The Bruins played deep into June. The Maple Leafs' first playoff series in nine years had a dismal ending.
"I thought we ran out of gas," Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. "When you build a 4-1 lead you want to check, check, check, and as I said, I thought we just ran out of gas as far as our group."
May 16 - Los Angeles Kings 4, San Jose Sharks 3
The Kings won Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals in San Jose, but entering the final minutes of Game 2, it looked like the series would be shifting to Los Angeles with the teams tied 1-1.
Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty had given the Kings a 2-0 lead early in the second period, but the Sharks scored twice in the second to tie the game, and Marc-Edouard Vlasic's goal at 8:56 of the third put San Jose up 3-2.
Back-to-back penalties late in the third on Brad Stuart and Vlasic gave the Kings life via a two-man advantage for 1:38. They needed 36 seconds of it; Dustin Brown parked himself in the crease, and when Jeff Carter pushed his shot off Antti Niemi's pads, Brown knocked in the rebound to tie the game with 1:43 left in regulation.
With Staples Center still rocking and the Kings still on a power play, rookie forward Tyler Toffoli rocketed into the Sharks zone and fired a shot off the rush from the right side that Niemi stopped, but the rebound went to an unchecked Trevor Lewis to the left of the net, and 22 seconds after tying the game, the Kings had a 4-3 lead.
June 12 -- Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (3OT)
The Stanley Cup Final got off to an entertaining start and served as an appetizer for one of the more entertaining Final series in recent memory.
A pair of goals by Milan Lucic gave Boston a 2-0 lead in the first minute of the second period, and after Brandon Saad got Chicago within one after two periods, Patrice Bergeron's power-play goal 6:09 into the third restored the Bruins' two-goal lead.
In a span of 4:14, though, the Blackhawks climbed back into the game. Andrew Shaw intercepted a pass at the Bruins blue line and fed Dave Bolland for a goal at 8:00 of the third, then at 12:14 Johnny Oduya's shot through traffic trickled past Tuukka Rask to tie the game.
It stayed tied until 12:08 of the third overtime when Shaw, who helped start the rally, was the last player to be hit by the puck on a double deflection before it went past Rask to give the Blackhawks the win.
The game ended as the fifth-longest in Stanley Cup Final history.
June 24 -- Chicago Blackhawks 3, Boston Bruins 2
With two minutes left in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, cases were packed and travel plans were arranged for one final trip to Chicago and the ultimate moment in sports: Game 7.
Then, in a flash, the only case that matters was opened -- the one carrying the Stanley Cup, which was handed to the Blackhawks.
Milan Lucic's goal at 12:11 of the third period snapped a 1-1 tie and had the Bruins looking ahead to Game 7. Then, with 1:16 left, Bryan Bickell skated through the crease and scored off a Jonathan Toews' pass to tie the game. While the Bruins were recovering from that emotional setback, Dave Bolland knocked in the rebound of a Johnny Oduya shot with 58.3 seconds remaining, and suddenly the Blackhawks' one-goal deficit was a one-goal advantage.
The Blackhawks' final rally was enough to win their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
"I've seen [comebacks like this] happen in soccer, in the [UEFA] Champions League, but not in hockey," Blackhawks center Michal Handzus said. "Especially at this big stage, Game 6, elimination game, being in the road building and to score two goals in the last minute to win the Cup. Wow, that's incredible."
Follow Adam Kimelman on Twitter: @NHLAdamK
Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor