Comeback kids!

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

There were teams last season that went the entire year without ever giving up a third period lead.

Not even good teams. In an era when two-goal leads were safer than bear cubs, because teams were free to maul as much as they wanted in protecting them, everyone in the league boasted a ridiculous "when leading after two periods'' stat.

"Washington and Chicago, the worst teams in their conferences, never lost a third period lead when they had one,'' said Sharks coach Ron Wilson. "Never. And they were the worst teams in the league.''

Now, no lead is safe. In the last nine games in which they've trailed after 40, the Sharks have climbed off the canvas to win four times.

Montreal's done it six times.

Two games before San Jose visited, the Oilers were down 3-1 after 40 to Detroit, but came back in the third to take a 5-3 lead, only to watch Detroit come back and force overtime.

"You just can't turn the TV off or leave the game early in the NHL now,'' said Brendan Shanahan. "You would have thought we had the game locked up and then you would have thought that they had the game locked up.''

With referees calling penalties up to the final whistle and teams unable to change lines on icing calls preserving leads is entirely different than it was in the clutch and grab days, when teams could shut down the game with half a period to go.

"In the past we always said you have to play 60 minutes, but the reality was you didn't have to because the game was so restrictive you could protect a two-goal lead for the last 10 minutes,'' said Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe.

"Now you can't. There's a whole slew of reasons why, from parity to goaltending, but I think the rules are No. 1 - they allow for lead changes and allow for more ebb and flow in games than we had recently.''

Way more. Washington watched a 3-0 lead dissolve against Tampa this week, Philly gave up two goals in the last 1:50 to lose to Atlanta and the Islanders watched their run of 61-straight wins when leading after two periods fall.

"Penalties are being called late and games are getting evened up, it's a definite adjustment,'' said Wings defenceman Mathieu Schneider. "No lead is safe.''

Now, the best defence is a good offence.

"I think it is,'' said Jarret Stoll. "You might want to sit back and dump the puck in and sit back, but then you realize the whole play is in your end and before you know it the game is tied. You have to keep making plays, you can't change a thing when you're defending a lead.''

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ICE T'S TOP FIVE

TOP FIVE THINGS THAT HOCKEY FANS CARE ABOUT MORE THAN NHLPA INFIGHTING:

5 - Are there enough Toronto Maple Leafs games on CBC?

4 - Is Keith Tkachuk getting enough to eat?

3 - Is the National Hockey League really out to get Sean Avery?

2 - How is Bob Goodenow doing?

1 - How is the 24% rollback affecting NHL player agents?

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ICE T'S TEAM OF THE WEEK

LW - MARK BELL (BLACKHAWKS): Five points in two games against Edmonton gives him eight in his last four games

C - PAVOL DEMITRA (L.A. KINGS): LIghts up St. Louis en route to 10 points in his last four games.

RW - JAROMIR JAGR (RANGERS): Amazing rebirth in Manhattan nets him 3-7-10 this week.

RD - TOMAS KABERLE (MAPLE LEAFS): Seven assists and plus-6 rating while Toronto struggled.

LD - BRYAN MCCABE (MAPLE LEAFS): Proving his start was no fluke, pots 10 points in his last five games.

G - ALEX AULD (CANUCKS): He went 2-0 with a 1.33 GAA after stepping in for Dan Cloutier.

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ICE T'S QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"I tell our players to shoot it at the bench, too. But make sure you hit (assistant) Tim Hunter.''

- Ron Wilson, on the fact that more and more players are rifling the puck into the players' benches to get relief.

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ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI'S TAKE ON THE WEEK IN HOCKEY

- "Stupid puck, why won't you go home?'' - San Jose's Mark Smith after Miikka Kiprusoff robbed him point blank.

- Evgeni Nabokov after he whiffed on an easy point shot by Robyn Regehr: "I thought it was coming to me. I got set. I thought it was coming straight to my glove. Guess it didn't.''

- "The environment in Phoenix, believe it or not, is worse than the environment here.'' - David Tanabe, after being traded from Phoenix to the Bruins.

- "It's depressing. Who wants to wake up in the morning and see that?'' - Blue Jackets winger Trevor Letowski on why he doesn't check the standings in his morning paper.


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