“The Most Dangerous Lead in Hockey” – Fact or Myth?

Is a two-goal lead really the "Most Dangerous Lead in Hockey"?

I t’s been repeated time and again – the two-goal lead is the “most dangerous lead in hockey”. Common sense would tell someone that it’s a cliche’ and simply not true. Obviously a one-goal lead is the most dangerous lead in hockey…right? But a two-goal lead is still considered extremely dangerous and volatile…but is it?

That’s what I decided to find out. For the 2010-11 NHL season, how often was a two-goal lead blown? Was it relatively close in proportion to the one-goal lead? Did teams surrender a two-goal lead the majority of the time that they had them? At what point is a lead virtually insurmountable?

In order to find out, I scoured every single game summary from last year, analyzing 2,173 different leads from 1,230 games. In addition, every box score was reviewed twice to get each team’s data, so this review consists of an analysis of 2,460 team-games.

For the purpose of this analysis, a lead is considered the maximum goal margin before the game reverts to a tie. For instance, if a team starts a game with a 3-0 lead but wins the game 4-2, the lead is considered a three-goal lead because that was the maximum lead margin. A lead is considered surrendered whenever a game reverts to a tie. For instance, if one team jumps out to a 3-0 lead but becomes a 5-5 tie, that lead has been surrendered. All leads include regulation only, as it is impossible to surrender an overtime lead.

Here’s what I found:

Lead Percentage Surrendered Total Total Surrendered
1-Goal 85.35% 1,201 1,025
2-Goal 39.52% 463 183
3-Goal 10.34% 290 30
4+-Goal 0.91% 219 2

As the table shows, a one-goal lead, as expected is the most surrendered lead in hockey. However, after the one goal lead – which is surrendered a surprising 85.35% of the time – there is a significant drop among two goal leads. In fact, slightly over 60% of two-goal leads are maintained.

During the 2010-11 season, once a team reached a three-goal lead, they had an 89.66% change of maintaining the lead until the end of the game. With a four-goal lead, that chance increased to 99.09%.

Out of the entire NHL, only 5 teams surrendered a two-goal lead more than 50 percent of the time. On the other hand, two teams – Minnesota and Vancouver – managed to maintain a two-goal lead in over 80 percent of occurrences.

The below table contains the team-by-team data.

Team 1-Goal 2-Goal 3-Goal 4+-Goal
Anaheim 75.00% 71.43% 7.69% 0.00%
Atlanta 90.00% 61.54% 20.00% 0.00%
Boston 82.50% 27.78% 7.14% 0.00%
Buffalo 92.50% 45.45% 0.00% 0.00%
Calgary 86.49% 46.67% 20.00% 0.00%
Carolina 84.62% 36.36% 20.00% 0.00%
Chicago 90.48% 38.46% 7.69% 0.00%
Colorado 94.87% 42.86% 40.00% 0.00%
Columbus 83.78% 41.18% 22.22% 0.00%
Dallas 72.50% 56.25% 0.00% 0.00%
Detroit 89.36% 30.00% 16.67% 0.00%
Edmonton 88.89% 50.00% 22.22% 0.00%
Florida 83.78% 77.78% 33.33% 0.00%
Los Angeles 83.93% 21.43% 22.22% 0.00%
Minnesota 88.89% 18.75% 0.00% 0.00%
Montreal 78.13% 31.58% 0.00% 14.29%
Nashville 85.37% 33.33% 10.53% 0.00%
New Jersey 81.08% 27.27% 0.00% 0.00%
Islanders 100.00% 42.86% 0.00% 0.00%
Rangers 82.93% 33.33% 0.00% 0.00%
Ottawa 91.43% 23.53% 0.00% 0.00%
Philadelphia 85.71% 50.00% 11.76% 0.00%
Phoenix 75.00% 47.37% 7.69% 0.00%
Pittsburgh 82.86% 57.14% 0.00% 9.09%
St. Louis 93.75% 38.89% 0.00% 0.00%
San Jose 95.74% 25.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Tampa Bay 89.36% 41.18% 0.00% 0.00%
Toronto 77.78% 42.86% 12.50% 0.00%
Vancouver 78.26% 11.76% 8.33% 0.00%
Washington 71.43% 37.50% 25.00% 0.00%
Total 85.35% 39.52% 10.34% 0.91%

Is the two-goal lead the “most dangerous lead in hockey”? In the end, “dangerous” is subjective. However, the statistics show that if a team builds a two-goal advantage, they will maintain that lead in the majority of instances.

The fact stands that a one-goal lead is the only lead in hockey that is surrendered in the majority of occasions.

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A native of Franklin, Tennessee, Patten Fuqua is the managing editor of PuckScene.com. He earned a Bachelor’s of Science from Belmont University in Journalism and Broadcasting.