10 NHL Teams That Get Better as the Game Progresses

Steve SilvermanFeatured ColumnistMarch 22, 2013

10 NHL Teams That Get Better as the Game Progresses

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    It's not how you start, it's how you finish.

    That's partially true. A great start is often a sensational idea when you are in the business of winning in the NHL. However, when it comes to determining a team's overall strength, playing well late in the game tells coaches and general managers a lot more about a team's resiliency and what the boys in the locker room like to call character.

    It's no surprise that teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks are the best teams in the league as the game progresses since they possess the two best records in the league.

    However, some of the better teams in the league have struggled a bit when they have the lead, while others have not shown any ability to come back from a late deficit.

    (All stats referenced are courtesy of NHL.com.)

10. Winnipeg Jets

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    The Winnipeg Jets have shown some resolve this season. They have used their size and aggressiveness to wrestle first place from the Carolina Hurricanes in the Southeast Division, and if they can hold on to that position, they will be no worse than the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

    Head coach Claude Noel has seen players like Blake Wheeler, Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd show some real snarl, although a 4-0 home loss to Washington yesterday has to have Noel seething.

    The Jets have shown the ability to hold on to leads once they get them. They are 7-0-0 when leading after one period and 11-1-0 when leading after two. They are a mediocre 4-7-1 when trailing after one and an unimpressive 1-11-1 when trailing after two.

9. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders had one of the toughest assignments in the NHL at the start of the season since they competed in the Atlantic Division with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers.

    Led by the play of superstar John Tavares, the Islanders are in contention for a playoff spot. After yesterday's games were completed, they were three points out of the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

    The Islanders have shown they can play with the lead. They are 5-1-1 when having the lead after one period and 8-2-1 with the lead after two periods.

    The Islanders have also shown they can come back from an early deficit. They are 4-4-0 when trailing after one period, but 1-7-2 when trailing after two periods.

8. St. Louis Blues

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    The St. Louis Blues have not played up to expectations this season, but head coach Ken Hitchcock's team is holding down the sixth spot in the Western Conference and could move up to fourth by the end of the season.

    The Blues have been decent at holding onto leads this season. They are 7-3-1 when leading after one period and 8-2-0 when leading after 40 minutes.

    They are competitive when trailing after one period, recording a 5-6-0 record, and 3-7-1 when trailing after 40 minutes.

7. Los Angeles Kings

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    The Los Angeles Kings got off to a slow start this year, but they have bounced back nicely and are still a legitimate contender to defend their Stanley Cup championship.

    They are loaded with talent up and down the lineup. Jeff Carter has a team-high 18 goals while Anze Kopitar leads the Kings with 28 points. The Kings appear to get stronger as the game moves along.

    The Kings are 8-1-0 when leading after one period and 12-1-1 when leading after two periods. They are 4-8-0 when trailing after one period and 3-8-0 when trailing after two periods.

6. Ottawa Senators

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    The Ottawa Senators have managed to stay in contention this season despite a slew of injuries that would have doomed another team with a similar talent level.

    Head coach Paul MacLean has proven he can get the best out of his team on a consistent basis. Sergei Gonchar has stepped up considerably after Norris Trophy winning Erik Karlsson's Achilles injury and leads the team with 21 points. Kyle Turris has a team-high eight goals

    The Senators are 4-0-2 when leading after one period, and they improve to 11-1-1 when leading after two periods. They are also 3-6-2 when trailing after one period and a respectable 3-5-1 when trailing after two periods.

5. Montreal Canadiens

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    The Montreal Canadiens were shocking the NHL in the first two months of the season when they demonstrated a reversal of form from their 2011-12 last-place finish in the Eastern Conference.

    However, as the season has progressed, the shock factor is no longer the main story. The Canadiens have an outstanding team with depth, quickness and the ability to seize control of a game and dominate.

    They have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference, and players like Max Pacioretty, Brian Gionta, Michael Ryder and P.K. Subban are backing up Carey Price's goaltending with excellent overall play.

    The Canadiens are 11-1-1 when leading after one period and 10-1-2 when leading after two periods.

    They are also 0-2-1 when trailing after one period and 2-4-1 when trailing after two periods.

4. Boston Bruins

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    The Boston Bruins have excellent depth, a strong defense and opportunistic scoring. They appear to have many of the characteristics needed to win the Stanley Cup.

    Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tuukka Rask have done an excellent job of providing the leadership needed to keep this team near the top.

    The Bruins have had some recent struggles when bringing a lead into the third period, but they have done quite well when trailing late in the game.

    Claude Julien's team is 9-1-1 when leading after one period but 9-4-1 when leading after two periods. The Bruins have lost three games in regulation time in March when trailing after two periods.

    They are 2-2-2 when trailing after one period and 2-1-2 when trailing after two.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL, having won 10 games in a row and looking like a team that will be very tough to beat in the Eastern Conference. Sidney Crosby is back at the top of his game and his getting excellent support from Chris Kunitz.

    If Evgeni Malkin can return to the lineup and stay healthy, it doesn't appear that any team will be able to match them in explosiveness.

    The Penguins are 15-3-0 when they are leading after one period and are a perfect 13-0-0 when leading after two periods.

    The Penguins are 3-3-0 when trailing after one period and 3-6-0 when trailing after 40 minutes.

2. Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Blackhawks have been the top NHL story of the year, reeling off 24 consecutive games before they tasted defeat in a 60-minute game.

    Head coach Joel Quenneville's team has overwhelming skill that manifests itself in dominating puck possession time. The Blackhawks often pass the puck around with aplomb in the offensive zone and then take advantage of their many scoring opportunities.

    The Blackhawks are 10-0-1 when leading after 20 minutes and 17-1-1 when leading after two. They had not dropped a game with a third period lead until falling 3-2 at Anaheim March 20.

    The Blackhawks are 3-1-1 when trailing after one period and 3-2-1 when trailing after two.

1. Anaheim Ducks

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    As remarkable as the Montreal Canadiens have been in the Eastern Conference, the Anaheim Ducks have been just as big a story in the Western Conference.

    Bruce Boudreau did not appear to have the coaching skills to turn this team around after a disastrous 2011-12 season, but the Ducks have played hard-hitting and skilled hockey throughout the season.

    General Manager Bob Murray re-signed Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry during the season because he knows that this duo can carry the Ducks a long way this season and in the future.

    The Ducks are 8-0-2 when leading after one period and 10-0-2 when carrying a lead into the third period. They have shown remarkable ability to play from behind, as their record suggests. They are 8-2-1 when trailing after one period and 5-2-0 when trailing after two.