By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks are not showing any signs of the dreaded hangover that has impacted the most recent league champions.
Through their first nine games, the Blackhawks have lost but one game in regulation and their 6-1-2 record has them in a three-way tie for third in the Western Conference.
But that doesn’t mean head coach Joel Quenneville’s team is just sailing along. In their nine games, they have either blown third-period leads or fallen behind in the third period (or lost in a shootout) five times.
That doesn’t seem like the mark of a champion. When you go into the third period with a lead or the score tied, you put a team away in the final 20 minutes. If you don’t do it that way, you are putting yourself at risk to developing a nasty habit that is likely to have an impact at the worst time of the year – the postseason.
Surely, if you are blowing leads like the Blackhawks did in the season opener against the Washington Capitals or their most recent game against the Florida Panthers, you’re not as good as you think you are.
That’s logical, but it’s not necessarily the case. You can’t blow a lead if you haven’t gotten to the front in the first place, and that usually happens because you are the better team. And blowing the lead doesn’t mean you are not going to come back or respond before the end of the period.
That’s just what the Blackhawks have done, and that’s verified by their one regulation loss.
Blowing late regular-season leads can be scary, but the Blackhawks have some time to overcome this problem.
A team as talented and accomplished as the Blackhawks has nothing to worry about now except staying as healthy as possible. Mistakes and errors will be made along the way, but there’s plenty of time to correct them.
Check out the co-stars of last year’s Stanley Cup Final. The Boston Bruins were stellar in last year’s postseason, sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins and holding them to two goals in the Eastern Conference Final.
The Bruins were worthy challengers to the Blackhawks and were less than two minutes away – alright, 77 seconds – from extending Chicago to seven games.
That’s when the third-period blown lead problem came back to bite them. At the worst possible moment.
Boston had big problems in the regular season. No team blew more third period leads than the Bruins. They ended up losing the Northeast Division title and finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference because they couldn’t keep their heads above water in the third period.
Boston earned 65.2 percent of the points they could have when they brought a lead into the third period last season, which ranked 29th in the league. The Colorado Avalanche were only able to rake in 64.2 percent of the points available, but they did not lead as often as the Bruins.
This was a situation that Claude Julien drilled and practiced constantly, but it didn’t seem like the Bruins got the lesson until the playoffs. And then, just when it looked like they understood, they gave it up at the worst possible time.
It’s obviously a concern for Quenneville. He would like to fix this issue in October or November and not let it linger to the more critical parts of the season.
He doesn’t have to call Julien to understand what can happen when teams can’t protect themselves in the third period.
He was there and he learned first-hand.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.