The ‘Uh-Oh, You’re Down 0-2 in the NHL Playoffs’ Survival Guide

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While the Capitals edged the Rangers last night to go up 2-1, the league’s three remaining series each feature a team holding a 2-0 lead. Two games into the second round, the Flames have been dominated by the Ducks, the Wild just can’t crack the Blackhawks, and the Habs … well, the Habs are kind of losing their minds against the Lightning.

The good news is that while a comeback from a 2-0 deficit is unlikely — only about 14 percent of teams pull it off — it’s far from impossible. Over the last few decades, it has tended to happen roughly once a year. We didn’t see any 2-0 comebacks in the first round this year, which means we’re still due.

That said, it’s a tricky proposition, and you really need to have a few things going for you to have a chance at pulling it off. So let’s run through eight factors that should be in your favor as you battle back from being down 2-0, and more importantly, which of these three teams have each going for them.

The Factor: A Goalie Who Can Steal the Series for You

This one’s probably the most obvious. All sorts of factors can contribute to a 2-0 deficit — a superior opponent, an offense gone cold, poor special teams, or just plain bad luck — but a hot goaltender is the one trump card that can overcome everything else. It’s awfully tough to come back without your goalie pulling off at least one or two of those “we just weren’t beating him tonight” games, and you want to have a guy who’s shown that he’s more likely than others to get it done.

Applies to: Minnesota and Montreal. Devan Dubnyk and Carey Price are two of this year’s three Vezina finalists. The Wild and Habs both have plenty to worry about right now, but not their goaltending.

Doesn’t apply to: Calgary. The Flames have already swapped starters in this series, which typically isn’t a good sign when you’re only two games in. Jonas Hiller started Game 1 but barely made it out of the first period. Karri Ramo got the nod in Game 2, and actually played a strong game despite the loss, making several highlight-reel saves. The Flames will need him to keep that up for the rest of the series; his track record says that’s probably wishful thinking.

The Factor: Facing a Goalie Who Could Let You Back In

This is the obvious flip side to the first factor. You need a goaltending edge, and the best way to get that is for your own guy to stand on his head. But if that doesn’t happen, facing an opponent who’ll hand you a few stinkers to get you back into the mix will work too. Just ask the 2002 Red Wings.

Applies to: Minnesota and maybe Calgary. Yes, Corey Crawford has a Cup ring. He’s also already lost his starting job once this postseason, and his 4-1 win on Sunday night was his first solid game of the opening two rounds. As for the Ducks, starter Frederik Andersen was supposed to be a potential weak spot heading into the playoffs. He hasn’t been so far, because the Ducks haven’t had any weak spots at all yet, and if it stays that way the Flames are done. Maybe we’re grasping at straws, but we’re not willing to move Andersen into the “sure thing” pile quite yet.

Doesn’t apply to: Montreal. We gave the “Is Ben Bishop actually good?” coin another flip, and it came up heads, so Ben Bishop is good today. And he’s been pretty darn good for the past week, starting with his Game 7 shutout win against the Red Wings and continuing through this series. So the Lightning probably feel pretty good about him (although they’d feel even better if he didn’t occasionally do stuff like this).

The Factor: Home Ice in Games 3 and 4

You’re never really in trouble in a playoff series, the old saying goes, until you lose a game at home. When you open on the road, your goal is always to steal at least one, but coming home down 2-0 isn’t necessarily a disaster. You just need to hold serve and win the next two in your own building. Do that, and you can head into Game 5 feeling good about your chances.

Applies to: Calgary and Minnesota. Both teams head back home for Game 3.

Doesn’t apply to: Montreal. If you’re really looking for a bright side, then maybe getting away from the pressure cooker of Montreal is exactly what the team needs after Sunday’s disaster. The question is whether they’ll arrive back in town in a few days with anything on their schedule beyond locker cleanout.

The Factor: Something to Build on in Game 2

Yes, momentum is overrated. But when times are tough, it helps to feel like you’re headed in the right direction, even if that’s just a lie you tell yourself to keep fighting.

Applies to: Calgary. After getting rolled over in Game 1, the Flames came out in Game 2 and looked even worse early on. The Ducks dominated, pelting Ramo with 20 first-period shots, and deserved a bigger lead than the 1-0 edge they took into the first intermission. But then the Flames woke up and finished with two solid periods. It wasn’t enough to steal a win, but it was the first time in the series that Calgary even looked like it belonged on the ice with Anaheim. That’s not much, but it’s something.

Doesn’t apply to: Minnesota and Montreal. The Wild weren’t dominated in the two games in Chicago; with a break or two, they could have won either. But seeing Chicago’s biggest starts come through in Game 2 had to be at least a little demoralizing, especially in a game that seemed to be there for the taking early in the third. As for the Canadiens, the less said about Game 2, the better. They got whupped.

The Factor: Having Done It Before

Ideally, you’d love to be able to look around the room and say, “We’ve been here before.”

Applies to: Minnesota and (if we’re really stretching it) Calgary. The Wild were facing this same 2-0 deficit heading back to home ice just last year against the Avalanche. They pulled off an overtime win Game 3, evened the series in Game 4, and then went on to win the series in seven.

As for the Flames, they hadn’t won a playoff round in more than a decade until last week, so there are no comebacks to be found in recent team history. But head coach Bob Hartley can at least draw on his own history; way back in 1999, his Avalanche fell behind 2-0 to the Red Wings before dominating the rest of the series, outscoring Detroit 19-7 along the way. It’s a long time ago, but it’s something.

Doesn’t apply to: Montreal. Andrei Markov was on the 2004 team that came back against the Bruins, but that’s about it. They have blown 2-0 leads against the Hurricanes in 2006 and Bruins in 2011, so maybe they learned something there.

The Factor: An Established Star Who Can Take Over a Game

It doesn’t happen as often in today’s defense-heavy NHL, where a well-coached system (combined with hesitant officiating) can often target and shut down a top offensive player. But every once in a while, an elite talent can still take over a game and drag his team across the finish line. Not every team has that sort of player, of course, but the ones that do can always hope that he’ll have one of those “not on my watch” games.

Applies to: Montreal and maybe Minnesota. There aren’t many players who can take over a game from the blue line, but P.K. Subban is one of them. When he’s at his best, he’s close to unstoppable; the Habs need him to find that level quickly. Minnesota’s Zach Parise isn’t quite in that tier, but he had a strong postseason back in 2012 when he led the Devils all the way to the final. And if not him, maybe Thomas Vanek will finally break out.1

Doesn’t apply to: Calgary. The Flames have lots of young talent, and there’s no reason why one of those kids can’t string together a few big games to get them back into the series. But an established star? Not unless Mark Giordano comes back.

The Factor: A Special-Teams Edge

Scoring 5-on-5 is tough during the season. Once the playoffs starts, full-strength scoring often seems to dry up entirely. That puts even more emphasis on special teams, so if a team can maintain an edge there, it has a shot to claw back into the series.

Applies to: Minnesota. The Wild have the postseason’s best power play, clicking at 35.3 percent. That’s a little misleading, since they’ve had only 17 opportunities across eight games. Still, they’ve scored a power-play goal in both games of this series, their penalty kill is a solid 85.7 percent, and Chicago hasn’t been good when either up or down a man. That could give the Wild a big boost if (and it’s a big if) the refs start making more calls.

Doesn’t apply to: Calgary or Montreal. The Flames’ special teams have been about average, but the Ducks have been better. And the Canadiens’ special-teams struggles are well known by know; their power play is an awful 3.8 percent in the postseason. The good news had been that the Lightning were almost as bad, but that ended on Sunday when they went 4-of-8 and looked like the Harlem Globetrotters doing it.

The Factor: Being One of Those Miracle Teams

When you’re down 2-0, you kind of need a minor miracle. So what better team to pull it off than one that’s already used to being the underdog who somehow defies the odds?

Applies to: Calgary and Minnesota. The Flames have long since staked out their claim as this year’s ridiculous outlier team, winning even though nobody thinks they’re all that good. Would a comeback from down 2-0 against the Ducks make any sense? No, but nothing about the Flames season has made sense, so why stop now?

Meanwhile, the Wild were in 12th place in mid-January and seemed like a team in disarray. Then they traded for Dubnyk and transformed into one of the best teams in the league overnight. Is coming back from 2-0 really any tougher than coming back from 12th place? Nope.

Doesn’t apply to: Montreal. Sorry, Habs fans. You’ve got this year’s probable MVP and a Norris finalist, you were in last year’s final four, and you were just picked for the next Winter Classic. You may want to embrace a “nobody believes in us” role, but it’s too late; everyone believes in you, or at least they did until a few games ago. You don’t get to play the plucky underdog card now.

So where does all this leave us?

If you’re a Wild fan, you’re not in terrible shape. They almost certainly need to win tonight, and probably again in Game 4 on Thursday. That won’t be easy against a Hawks team that looks to finally be shifting into Stanley Cup mode right on time. But they’ve got a shot.

The Flames have a weaker case. They’ll no doubt get a boost from a loud crowd tonight, but the Ducks went into a raucous building in Winnipeg in Round 1 and did just fine. Calgary’s biggest problem is that they just don’t look like they’re good enough to keep up with Anaheim. They’ve still got a puncher’s chance here, but not much more than that.

And then there’s Montreal. The Habs certainly didn’t fare well in the various categories that made up this post, and after Sunday night they looked like a team that was closer to a full-scale meltdown than a comeback. So it’s tempting to write them off completely … until you remember Carey Price. The guy is going to be MVP for a reason, and if anyone can single-handedly steal a series his team has no right to win, it’s him. And the way they’re playing right now, the Canadiens might need exactly that.

Filed Under: 2015 NHL Playoffs, Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals

Sean McIndoe ’s work can be found at Down Goes Brown. When he's not writing, he makes hockey jokes on Twitter at @downgoesbrown.

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