A huge reason for the downfall of the 2010-2011 Chicago Blackhawks was their inability to close out games. They were one of the worst third-period teams in the NHL, giving up 89 goals and scoring only 74. That's a minus-15 goal differential.
Attribute it to whatever reasons you want: fatigue, lack of effort, intensity or roster depth. The point is the Blackhawks found themselves in such a precarious position at the end of last season because they were unable to hold leads, break ties and mount comebacks in the third period.
But the 2011-2012 Chicago Blackhawks so far have been a completely different team in the third period. Through eight games the Blackhawks are statistically the best third-period team in the NHL.
While the Blackhawks aren't the highest scoring team in the third period, they are tied with Los Angeles for the fewest number of goals allowed—giving up a mere three.
So in terms of third-period goal differential, the Blackhawks are the best in the NHL with plus-seven, which is better than the undefeated Washington Capitals, who have a plus-six third-period goal differential.
So far this season the Blackhawks are doing what they were unable to do last season, which is outplay teams in the third period, and it's paying off.
The Blackhawks were able to hold a one-goal lead in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets on October 13th.
They scored two third-period goals, including a shorthanded goal from Dave Bolland, to take down the Phoenix Coyotes on October 18th.
They mounted an impressive comeback in the third period by tying and then taking the lead against the Avalanche on October 22nd, but they surrendered a goal and fell in a shootout. Still, the Blackhawks came out with a point, despite trailing by two goals at one point in the game.
And finally, the Blackhawks scored a game-tying goal from Patrick Sharp in the third period against the Anaheim Ducks on October 25th and went on to win in a shootout.
It's a very small sample size, but the Blackhawks' third-period play thus far has to be very encouraging for fans. It shows that the team is hungry to get wins and finish off teams.
It also speaks to the depth the Blackhawks have acquired over the summer. With ice time being more evenly distributed, players, particularly defensemen, are able to sustain intensity in the third period, something the team severely lacked last season.
The third-period success of the Chicago Blackhawks is one of the many positive signs in their young season, and if they can maintain that kind of play, teams will find it very difficult to mount comebacks or take leads.
And that will only help them as they seek to complete their conquest of the Western Conference.