Monday, May 05, 2014

Some Notes on the Bruins Comeback Machine

Forgive the Canadiens for believing it, they've succumbed themselves now twice to the feat, but the Bruins third period numbers (that is goals for vs. goals against) is tied much more closely to the story that they keep leads (the majority of their games) rather than the fact they take them back.

The numbers that has the admirers slack-jawed with awe show that Boston outscored their opponents by 50 goals in third periods to the tune of 3.80 GF/60 and 2.05 GA/60. A bump in offense over their 3.15 GF/60 generally, but very consistent with their 2.08 GA/60.

The "Best 3rd Period Team in Hockey" is a nice tag, but does it mean comeback kings as almost all imply it should? There is no question that the Bruins were the best 3rd period team in hockey, by one measure. But no one should take that to mean they are some kind of impossible to douse flame. I'll explain.

When the Bruins held the lead after two periods, something they did an impressive 45 times in the season, they won the vast majority (as anyone would expect). The record is 41-2-2, with only one win in a shootout. opponents only got another look in 5 of 45 games. Their goal numbers in these games were impressive: 61 goals for (including 9 empty netters) and only 30 against. That is 4.07 GF/60 and 2.00 GA/60. Note, without empty netters we get 3.47 GF/60.

When the Bruins are tied after two, amazingly only sampled 14 times this season, they are predictably less impressive. They scored 16 goals in those vs. 11 against and ended with a record that does indeed show their tenacity: 6-4-4 (note more losses than wins, however). The goal record is a bit skewed as well, because it includes 4 empty netters and three others against the Florida Panthers in draft lottery mode.Still, the rates are nice: 3.43 GF/60 and 2.36 GA/60. Without empty netters here, we have 2.57 F/60 -- showing why they get more losses than wins.

The real story lies in games in which they trailed. For illustrative purposes, let's consider two sets of games here: those with a one-goal deficit and those with a greater deficit.

When trailing by one goal, the Bruins use their pep talk (and magic nose spray) to great effect. Their record is an impressive 7-6-1 (with 2 SOW, so 7-5-2 for opposition). The scoring rates in these games
is 4.07 GF/60 again with a stingy 1.50 GA/60. Impressively, they scored at least one goal in all but 3 contests (A Montreal game vs. price, included).

When trailing by two, it's a different story. They are Buffalo Sabres dead with a 0-7-2 record. Their mythological comeback ability apparently completely muffled by the extra goal. Of course they did overcome St. Louis once and if you can count Toronto late in the season (it's hardly fair we should), then they did come back twice only to lose in the next 5 minutes (so all losses by playoff standards). The rates are 3.00 GF/60 and 2.67 GA/60.

The lesson

So what's the lesson here? Well there could be a few, here's one: If you carry a lead on the Bruins into the third, they are in a bad position, and just like almost any team, less likely to win than lose. In Game 1, they overcame they overcame a two-goal lead with brute force, but as they did against the tumbling Leaves, lost in OT anyway. The Game 2 result was an exception to the rule.

Montreal should be mindful to keep doing what they are doing. Their incisive counter attacks trouble anyone, Bruin or not, and the leads they build from this will be held sooner or later. It is important not to believe in too much mythology in an intense meeting like these short playoff series. Boston is a slightly better team than Montreal, but not so good that leads don't matter.

The Habs also need to take heart on the fact that although they don't get the gaudy 3rd period balloon stats from holding leads, they are only a hair worse than the Bruins with a lead: a blinding 0.822 when they score first to the Bruins 0.837.  And better than Boston at holding a 2nd intermission lead 0.921 vs. 0.911.

What makes Claude Julien uncomfortable these days is that he knows this. In his heart of hearts he knows, he's witnessed two outliers with these comebacks and he's spinning his lines with the media in a vain attempt to stem the bleeding that seems to be happening in the other two periods (in penalties mostly).

One can only count on outliers tobeing lying out there so often...

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