Want to know what keeps NHL coaches up at night? It’s simple, really: There is a minimum of 3,600 seconds in every NHL game. That’s a lot of time that things need to go your way in order to win – and a lot of time in which you can lose yourself a game.
Such was the case Tuesday night in Dallas. For the first 2,400 seconds of the game between the host Stars and the Ducks, Anaheim controlled the pace and led 2-1 as the third period began. But in a 53-second span early in the final frame of regulation time, the visitors lost their composure, surrendered three goals and essentially lost the game. (It ended in a 6-3 Stars win that ended a two-game Dallas losing streak and was only Anaheim’s seventh loss of the season.)
In today’s NHL, it doesn’t matter that the Ducks entered Tuesday’s game with a 12-0-2 record when leading after two periods, or that Dallas had a 1-6-2 mark when trailing after 40 minutes. What matters is focus – unrelenting, withering focus – and springing out to capitalize when your opponent’s focus falters.
That’s precisely what the Stars did during Anaheim’s 53-second sag. The three goals weren’t all or even mostly the fault of Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller, but they were enough to suck the wind out of Anaheim’s sails. It may only be November, but NHL squads are so well-prepared now, it’s virtually impossible for a team to rebound from that type of letdown.
Are the Ducks still the better team? Yes. Even with the victory, the Stars are six points out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference. And even with the loss, Anaheim is still tied with St. Louis for the second-best record in the league.
But when coaches talk about the little things making a difference, this is what they’re talking about. Success in the NHL is about playing well in short spans of seconds until they become long spans.
Even a momentary lapse of attention can shove those good stretches to the far back corner of your memory.