Sunday night, the Calgary Flames were down 4-0 after two periods of play in Ottawa. They had been outshot 31 to 21 by the Senators and things looked grim. But the third period has been Calgary’s strength on the season and they didn’t accept defeat on the night. Instead, the Flames went to work.
That amazing four-goal flurry by Calgary got the game to overtime. The Senators won in the shootout, but earning one point from the maw of a 4-0 deficit was victory enough for the Flames. In the midst of a tight playoff race, every point that Calgary can earn is precious.
Coming back from behind when down by four goals may be extreme, but Calgary has made a habit of earning points when trailing this season. They are tied for the NHL lead with 10 victories when trailing after two goals with the Anaheim Ducks. That is impressive and shows the resiliency of the team. It is also concerning because the Flames are one of only six teams to trail after two periods in at least 30 games this season. Here are the records for Calgary and the other five teams on that list in those games.
|Team||Number of Games Trailing after 2nd||Wins||Losses||OTL|
The other five teams in that chart all have one thing in common. They are the five worst teams in the league by record. And then there is Calgary. The Flames are holding down the third and final playoff spot in the Pacific Division, two points ahead of the Kings and five in front of San Jose.
How is Calgary turning situations where they should lose into victories? They are scoring in the third period. To be more accurate, they are scoring a lot in the third period.
|Team||Points||3rd Period Goals|
As the chart shows, their ability to score in the final period turns them from a team that could be competing for the number one overall pick to a playoff hopeful. Only the Tampa Bay Lightning have scored more third period goals than the Flames this season. But Tampa hasn’t depended on third period scoring in quite the same way that Calgary has.
|Team||3rd Period Goals||Total Goals||3rd Period Goals Allowed||3rd Period Goal Percentage||3rd Period Differential|
|New York Islanders||70||207||73||33.8%||-3|
|New York Rangers||67||195||52||34.4%||+15|
Among teams that currently rank in the top ten of third period scoring, only Montreal joins the Flames in generating over 40% of their total goals in the final stanza. In fact, those are the only teams in the entire league that count on the last 20 minutes of the game for that much production.
It’s not just the scoring that makes Calgary’s ability to come back impressive either. They also become much harder to score against. They have allowed the fewest third period goals so far this year and therefore they have the league’s best goal differential in the third period. That is the key. They enter the final period trailing almost as much as any team in the league, but the Flames have found a way to score without allowing any more goals in the final 20 throughout the season.
This third period dominance has given the Flames playoff hope, and last night’s comeback happening without their captain and best player, Mark Giordano, has to be encouraging. The bigger question for Calgary however is the sustainability of third period mastery. Looking at last year’s numbers, four of the top ten teams in third period scoring are currently not playoff teams: Philadelphia (tied for 2nd), Columbus (6th), Toronto (7th) and Colorado (9th). The number one team in third period scoring from 2014, the Boston Bruins, are currently holding on for dear life as the final wild card team in the east. More importantly, they currently rank 28th in that same category. The only team that finished last season in the top ten of third period scoring that currently ranks there now is St. Louis, who finished last year fourth.
Doing the same analysis for comebacks in the third period yields similar results. The Avalanche, Coyotes and Flyers were all in the top ten of comeback victories last year and the New Jersey Devils were 11th. All are non playoff team at the moment now. But the more interesting thing to look at is total victories and games earning points when trailing after two. Last year’s top team in wins were the Islanders with 10, Calgary’s current total. Three different teams earned points in 13 games last season when trailing after two which was the top amount. Calgary currently has ten wins and three overtime or shootout losses in that same situation. Only the Boston Bruins (.304) had a winning percentage of over 30% when trailing after two periods in 2014. Calgary is currently at .333.
Of the top ten teams in third period comebacks last season, the Los Angeles Kings were the only team that advanced to the conference finals. The Kings obviously won the Stanley Cup last season. They had six third period comeback victories and three extra time losses with 21 defeats. That total comes to 30 games where they trailed after two. Which is exactly where Calgary is now.
The 2014 season saw one team in the top ten of third period comeback victories make the conference finals. What happens when you expand the sample?
|Year||Conference Finalist||Rank||Conference Finalist||Rank||Conference Finalist||Rank||Conference Finalist||Rank|
|2014||LA Kings||t-8th||NY Rangers||t-13th||Chicago||t-13th||Montreal||t-24th|
|2012||LA Kings||t-29th||NJ Devils||t-11th||Phoenix||t-15th||NY Rangers||t-11th|
|2011||Boston||t-8th||Vancouver||t-8th||Tampa Bay||t-16th||San Jose||t-20th|
The chart shows that most conference finalists aren’t teams that live and die by the third period comeback. The 2013 season was the lockout shortened season, so it’s not surprising that all four teams rank in the top ten in comeback victories. The 2009 season had the top three teams in comeback victories all make the conference finals, but that could be considered an outlier. Calgary could succeed in the playoffs continuing in this manner, but it isn’t likely.
The ability to comeback in the final 20 minutes of a hockey game is certainly a useful skill. The Flames are riding it to an unexpected playoff berth at the moment. They may not be able to rely on it for much longer, but should they make the playoffs, it would certainly be worth it. If nothing else, it gives us great drama like they produced last night.