Keys for Each Trailing NHL Playoff Team to Bounce Back in 1st-Round Series
One of the most exciting parts of the Stanley Cup playoffs is the dramatic momentum changes that sweep through so many of the series. From one game—even one period—to the next, fans are kept on the edge of their seats, never knowing quite what to expect.
The odds aren't great for teams that fall behind. With data through 2010, NHL.com shows that teams that trail 2-0 in a series only come back to win 12.7 percent of the time, while teams that are down 3-1 succeed in just 8.7 percent of their series.
These days, teams profess to take 'em one game at a time, and the strategy seems to be paying dividends.
In 2013, the Los Angeles Kings and the New York Rangers were both down 2-0 in their first-round series before coming back to advance. As for the Chicago Blackhawks, they rallied from a 3-1 deficit in the Western Conference Semifinal against Detroit before winning in seven games, then trailed 2-1 against the Boston Bruins before winning three straight games to claim the Stanley Cup.
Early impressions in 2014 indicate that this year's underdogs seem particularly unfazed by long odds. On Wednesday night, the trailing Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars and Chicago Blackhawks all came back to tie their series at two games apiece.
With the Montreal Canadiens already resting up for Round 2, that leaves four squads strategizing about how to mount their own comebacks and ultimately advance. Here's a look at the keys to success for the playoffs' trailing teams.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Detroit Red Wings
Where They Stand: After winning Game 1, the Red Wings lost their next two games to fall behind 2-1 in their series. Game 4 gets underway Thursday in Detroit.
What We've Seen: Jimmy Howard stood on his head in the first game to allow Pavel Datsyuk a chance to score the game-winner later in the third period. Goaltending can only do so much to compensate for the fact that the Wings have just two goals in three games in the series.
Keys for a Comeback: Captain Henrik Zetterberg practised with the Wings on Wednesday for the first time since he had back surgery in February. According to Dan Rosen of NHL.com, he wasn't planning to try to get clearance to play before Game 4, but his teammates will certainly appreciate having him back on the ice, even in non-game situations.
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has been airtight through the first three games of the series, but Detroit coach Mike Babcock says his team's biggest problem is finding a way to create chances.
I really thought with the exception of Game 1 they've done an exceptional job of pushing us out of the middle and putting us on the outside. To me, that's not good enough. You have to be harder, be on the inside, make the goalie work way more. We've gotta get on the inside to find out if Rask is doing anything. We haven't got to him.
Gustav Nyquist fueled the Red Wings' run to the playoffs with an outburst of scoring in February and March. He has 10 shots on goal through three games but is pointless so far.
Detroit was badly outshot in the first period of its last two games and came out both times down 2-0, which proved to be the story of those games. Whether it's youngsters or veterans doing the heavy lifting, the Red Wings need to carry the play early in Game 4 if they hope to get back into their series.
Where They Stand: The Minnesota Wild trail the Colorado Avalanche 2-1, but they won their last game 1-0 in overtime. Game 4 is Thursday in Minnesota.
What We've Seen: During the first two games of the series in Denver, the story was all about the Avalanche's top line. Paul Stastny, Gabriel Landeskog and rookie Nathan MacKinnon were getting dynamite chances at will.
The Wild tightened up defensively once they implemented their desired matchups back at Xcel Energy Center. Goaltender Darcy Kuemper also stepped in for Ilya Bryzgalov and was flawless in his first-ever playoff start.
Keys for a Comeback: Matt Cooke was a key figure for the Wild defensively in Game 3, but he was handed a seven-game suspension Wednesday for injuring Tyson Barrie in a knee-on-knee collision, per NHL.com. If Cooke appeals the ruling, he won't play until a decision is rendered, so he's definitely out of the lineup for the short term.
Michael Russo of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune has his thoughts on the Wild's lineup adjustment with Cooke on the sidelines:
Youngster Nino Niederreiter will take Cooke’s spot on the left side of the shutdown line with rookies Erik Haula and Justin Fontaine on Thursday. Haula, Fontaine and Cooke were largely credited for helping slow the Gabriel Landeskog-Paul Stastny-Nathan MacKinnon line in Monday’s 1-0 OT win.
Fontaine and Haula were quick to say it was a team effort of five-man units, good gaps and large portions of the game played in the offensive zone. That must continue.
Erik Haula's a wrecking ball in his own right, so don't expect the Wild to suddenly become passive without Cooke in the lineup.
The return of Kuemper in net also seems to have stabilized the Minnesota skaters. Kuemper was a key part of the Wild's solid run after Christmas that drove them into a playoff spot, posting 12 wins in 16 consecutive games for the Wild before Bryzgalov arrived at the trade deadline.
Kuemper stopped 14 shots after replacing Bryzgalov in Game 2 and was perfect in Game 3. If he can continue his solid play, the Wild will have every opportunity to even their series Thursday.
Los Angeles Kings
Where They Stand: The Los Angeles Kings trail the San Jose Sharks 3-0. They'll try to avoid elimination Thursday at the Staples Center.
What We've Seen: As my colleague Adrian Dater explains here, the Sharks' overwhelming success in this series is hard to pinpoint. It seems to be the product of a balanced attack and a touch of Lady Luck.
After being dominated by San Jose for two games in Northern California, the Kings threw everything they had at the Sharks in Game 3 but still came up short after a seeing-eye overtime goal by Patrick Marleau.
Keys for a Comeback: No one expected Jonathan Quick to have a goals-against average of 5.78 after three playoff games, but it's unlikely that he can solve the problem on his own.
Chris Boyle of Sportsnet.ca provides a detailed breakdown of Quick's high-risk style, showing how it lets down his team when he doesn't get the defensive support that he needs. Says Boyle, "The problem early in the series isn’t really Quick, it is the Kings’ defensive failure to insulate him from high-leverage situations."
Kings' defensemen Slava Voynov, Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene are all minus-four in the series through three games—and Greene accomplished that in just one game. The problem probably tracks back to Drew Doughty, who injured his shoulder in the Kings' regular-season game against the Sharks April 3. He missed the rest of the regular season and may not be playing at 100 percent.
The blame for this defensive lapse doesn't rest entirely on the defense.
Anze Kopitar finished fourth in the NHL in plus/minus this season and is a candidate for the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the league's best defensive forward, but his contribution to the series so far has been surprisingly minimal.
The Kings need to stay aggressive but also tighten up defensively from front to back if they hope to avoid being swept by the Sharks Thursday.
Where They Stand: The Philadelphia Flyers are down 2-1 to the New York Rangers after a 4-1 loss in Philadelphia Tuesday night. Game 4 is Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.
What We've Seen: So far, we've seen a back-and-forth series with some big swings in momentum. The Rangers are playing a committed defensive game, but injured Flyers goalie Steve Mason made a relief appearance in Game 3 and could be ready for a start in Game 4.
Keys for a Comeback: The Flyers could certainly use more firepower from stars like Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux but really, it comes down to Mason, who suffered an upper-body injury April 12 in a collision.
Backup Ray Emery did a commendable job for the first two games of the series and backstopped the Flyers to their first win at Madison Square Garden in more than three years, but Mason has been the anchor for the Flyers' stretch run.
After Emery's Game 2 win, coach Craig Berube tapped him as the starter for Game 3 even though Mason was healthy enough to play. Emery gave up four goals on 16 shots in Game 3, so Mason stepped in with 7:15 left in the third period, stopping all three shots he faced.
Will Steve Mason start in goal Friday? "I have no expectations. If (Berube) says I'm in, I'll be ready."— Adam Kimelman (@NHLAdamK) April 23, 2014
Mason's presence should provide a lift for a Flyers team that lost the emotional battle as well as the one on the scoresheet in Game 3.