Wild putting two-goal lead theory to the test
ST. PAUL -- They say a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, mostly facetiously -- because it's not true. "Of course not," Wild center Erik Haula said. "You take any lead you can get." Still, the Wild have been putting that old saw to the test.
ST. PAUL - They say a two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey, mostly facetiously - because it's not true.
"Of course not," Wild center Erik Haula said. "You take any lead you can get."
Still, the Wild have been putting that old saw to the test. In their past seven games, one of the two teams involved squandered a two-goal lead six times. Four times it was the Wild, who also squandered leads of 4-0 and 1-0 during that stretch.
The Wild went 5-2-0 in those games and head into Thursday night's game against the St. Louis Blues atop the Western Conference, so the severity of the issue was up for debate after an optional skate Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.
The Wild led 4-0 at Dallas on Jan. 14 but needed a tie-breaking goal from Jason Zucker to win 5-4.
Since then, they've won three times after blowing 2-0 leads, including Tuesday night's 3-2, shootout victory over the Stars in Dallas. But they also lost twice at home after blowing 2-0 leads against New Jersey and Nashville.
"No, no," coach Bruce Boudreau said Wednesday. "That's today's game."
With his team guaranteed a piece of first place in the Central Division, and conference, heading into this weekend's all-star break, Boudreau isn't likely to spend much time on negatives, at least not publicly. The Wild have never been this good this late in a season.
Haula said the subject of blown leads hasn't come up in private, either. He scored twice in a 5-3 victory over Anaheim on Jan. 21, and seemed to stem the Devils' comeback with the go-ahead goal in the third period before New Jersey rallied again for a 4-3 win on Jan. 17.
The Wild won Tuesday on Chris Stewart's shootout goal at America Airlines Center after blowing a 2-0 lead in the second period.
"It's great when we can come back, but we've got to do a better job of continuing our play - continue playing the way that got us to those leads and not slowing down," Haula said.
Because Minnesota has won seven of nine games since Columbus ended its 12-game winning streak on Dec. 31, the Wild are treating the trend as more anomaly than omen. Boudreau, in fact, sounded as if it's somewhat inevitable in today's NHL.
"Blown leads," he said. "We have one turnover and a 5 on 3. I mean, you're going to get scored on. We keep teams to two goals or less, then that's fine. I mean, I think the last seven games, either team has been ahead or behind by two.
"You'd like to be perfect and say we can shut the door down all the time, but it doesn't always happen. It's putting your finger in the dike until you regroup and get it going again."
Of course, Boudreau wasn't happy after losing to the Devils last week, using succinct adjectives such as "dumb" and "stupid" to describe his team's play during New Jersey's three-goal third period.
Against Nashville on Jan. 22, the Predators scored three times in the third to win 4-2. Afterward, Boudreau said, "Obviously, if we want to win a championship, it's got to get better. ... You've got to be able to play with a lead."
Through 722 NHL games this season, teams are averaging 2.77 goals and 2.60 goals against, a slim margin for error overall, although the Wild's plus-47 scoring margin is tied with Columbus for second in the NHL behind the Washington Capitals (plus-51).
"When we do have a lead, and they start putting a push on, we've got to be a little bit better at recognizing and then being able to stop it," Boudreau said Wednesday.
The Wild have a definite advantage in goaltender Devan Dubnyk in net. He leads in the NHL in goals-against average (1.91) and save percentage (.935), and the team's 106 goals-against ranks second behind Washington's 100.
Playing with a lead shouldn't be this hard.
"We've had some success so far, and the tendency sometimes is when you jump out to a quick lead, you kind of take it a little bit easier," Haula said. "But we've got to find a way to play full, 60-minute games on those leads, and that way it's going to be really hard to come back on us. ... When you let up, it gives the other team a chance."
Then, of course, there is the old two-goal lead theory.
"It's probably the worst lead you can have in hockey," winger Nino Niederreiter said.
"I don't know; it's tough to say," he said. "If the other team gets one, they get the momentum and they're right back in the game - and one goal can be scored very quickly. And the thing is there's no bad team out there; as soon as you let your foot off the gas just a little bit, teams come back at you.
"I'm not saying it's been a problem. The good thing for us is we always find a way to go right back at them and win those hockey games, even though we were down."
So far, so good.