TAMPA — There’s no team better than the Lightning this season protecting a lead entering the third period. And if recent history is any indication, that’s a good omen for their Stanley Cup chances.
With four regular-season games left, the Lightning are a perfect 25-0-0 when leading after two periods. The last two teams to go undefeated in those situations in the regular season — the 2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 2014-15 Chicago Blackhawks — went on to win the Stanley Cup.
Both teams, in fact, defeated Tampa Bay on their way to the Cup.
A team’s ability to close out games is certainly an asset. Sunday’s 2-1 win in Detroit was the latest example, as the Lightning withstood a late Red Wings charge and killed a 5-on-3 power play to preserve a one-goal lead.
“I didn’t know that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said when told about the stat. “I knew we had a pretty good record after two. I like those stats though.”
The ability to take a lead and defend it is something the Lightning have become especially good at. Before last year’s Cup run, they were 31-1-4 when leading after two periods, and in 2018-19, Tampa Bay had a 39-2-2 record.
The Lightning were 10-0-0 in last year’s playoff bubble when taking a lead into the final period — including in three of their Stanley Cup Final wins over Dallas.
“Over the years I’ve been here, you got to learn to win,” Cooper said. “And to win consistently over time, you have to be able to close games out. Especially last year and coming into this year and even in the playoffs last year, we found a way and I think that’s the growth of a team. It’s a winning mindset and that’s probably why teams that have done that in the past have had success.”
Much like this year’s Lightning team, the 2015-16 Penguins were largely a veteran squad, anchored by center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang.
They went 39-0-0 in the regular season when ahead after two periods before winning the Stanley Cup, beating the San Jose Sharks in six games. But they weren’t without their share of adversity.
Coach Mike Johnston was fired after the first 28 games, replaced by Mike Sullivan. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was off to his best regular season before being sidelined by a concussion. Goaltender Matt Murray replaced him and led Pittsburgh to a six-game Eastern Conference final win over the Lightning with superb performances in Games 5 and 6.
The Penguins went on to win back-to-back Cups the next season, the last team to so do and the only team to do so over the past 22 years.
The Lightning know the 2014-15 Blackhawks well. They dropped a six-game Stanley Cup final matchup to Chicago. Another veteran-laden team backed by strong goaltending with Corey Crawford, the Blackhawks were 25-0-0 when leading after two periods.
Interestingly enough, the Blackhawks didn’t have a lead going into the third in the final until their decisive Game 6, when they expanded on a 1-0 lead on Patrick Kane’s final-period goal.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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