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Third-period leads are golden in today's NHL

by John Kreiser
There are few sure things in hockey, but going home with points when you lead after two periods is pretty close.

Through Thursday, there were only 37 games in which a team leading after two periods didn't go home with at least a point. No team has lost more than three such games, a dozen haven't lost any, and four -- the New York Rangers (22-0-0), Carolina Hurricanes (21-0-0), Los Angeles Kings (19-0-0) and Colorado Avalanche (15-0-0)  have gotten every possible point when they entered the third period with a lead.

Since 1998, the only team that's been perfect for a full season when entering the third period with a lead was the 2009-10 Buffalo Sabres, who went 30-0-0 -- then were knocked out in the first round of the playoffs because they were just 2-2 when leading after two periods.

Third-period comebacks for regulation wins are on pace to finish at the lowest figure in a decade. At the current pace, there will be 47, down from 58 last season and the fewest since there were 45 in 2000-01.

Another 55 games have seen the team leading after two periods get a point despite losing in overtime or in a shootout -- something that didn't exist a decade ago. The Atlanta Thrashers have had particular trouble turning leads after 40 minutes into two points rather than one -- they've seen it happen a League-high five times.
Best bet -- During the past two seasons, no team has been better at turning leads after 40 minutes into points than the Kings. Los Angeles is perfect in 19 games when leading through two periods this season after going 29-0-2 in 2009-10. That's 98 of a possible 100 points. L.A. is the only team in the past two seasons that hasn't lost a game in regulation when leading after two periods.

Even isn't good enough -- Having both teams end a game with the same number of shots on goal isn't unusual, but it's hardly common -- through the season's first 967 games, teams ended up even in shots just 39 times (4 percent). Even that would be too often for the Florida Panthers.

The Panthers are tied with Colorado for the League lead by matching their opponents in shots on goal six times. The bad part for the Panthers -- they're just 1-5-0 in those games.

The New York Islanders, on the other hand, run into their biggest struggles when they out-shoot the opposition. The Isles are just 4-19-2 when they have more shots; 20-13-7 when they don't. The fourth win came Wednesday night when they out-shot Minnesota -- something that wasn't a surprise, considering that the Wild has been out-shot in a League-high 57 of their 65 games. The Wild is 31-22-4 when they've been out-shot; just 3-3-2 when they have more shots.

Carrying the load -- Henrik Lundqvist probably wasn't expecting many days off anyway -- not with the New York Rangers desperate for every point in the Eastern Conference playoff scramble. But don't be surprised if he's in goal every night the rest of the way, now that backup Martin Biron is out with a broken collarbone that's likely to sideline him for the rest of the regular season.

Not that Lundqvist seems to mind big workloads down the stretch. He was 10-5-0 with a .920 save percentage while playing each of the Rangers' last 15 games last season, 9-4-2 with a .921 save percentage while playing 15 of New York's last 16 in 2008-09 and 8-3-2 with a 1.74 goals-against average and .924 save percentage while starting each of New York's last 15 games in '07-08.

Good barometer -- Want to know if the Washington Capitals are going to win? Start out by checking to see whether Alexander Semin scored.

Semin enters the weekend having scored 22 goals in 14 games (10 one-goal games and four hat tricks) -- and the Caps have won all 14 of them. When Semin plays but doesn't score, Washington is only 15-16-5 -- the Caps were 6-4-5 in the 15 games he missed with injuries.

Home cooking -- If Blake Comeau could play all his games at the Nassau Coliseum, he'd  be one of the most dangerous snipers in the NHL. Comeau had the sixth two-goal game of his career Wednesday as the New York Islanders beat Minnesota 4-1. All six have come at the Coliseum, including two this season. He has 12 of his 17 goals this season in 29 games at home after scoring 14 of his 17 in 2009-10 on Long Island.

Garden partier -- Like Comeau, Minnesota goaltender Jose Theodore has a favorite arena. Theodore made 40 saves Thursday night to lead the Wild to a 3-1 win against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Theodore is now 9-0-1 in 10 starts at the Garden; in all, he's 13-3-2 in his past 18 starts against the Rangers.

Getting their money's worth -- The Detroit Red Wings were delighted to get Jiri Hudler back last summer after he spent a season in Russia. They’re even happier now that his scoring touch has returned.

Hudler couldn't have started his return to the Wings much worse than he did -- he managed just 1 goal, 6 points and was minus-7 in his first 30 games while looking nothing like the player who scored 23 goals and amassed 57 points in 2008-09. But beginning with a two-point night against Colorado on Dec. 27, Hudler has been on fire. In his past 30 games, he has 7 goals and 19 assists for 26 points while going plus-7. Only Henrik Zetterberg (29 points) has more points for the Wings in that span.
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