Why the Lightning’s three-peat quest will be so difficult


After back-to-back Stanley Cup championships for the Tampa Bay Lightning, coach Jon Cooper nonetheless could not consider he was uttering these phrases:

“We’re going for 3.”

The final time an NHL staff gained three straight Stanley Cups was from 1981-83, as a part of the New York Islanders‘ run of 4 straight championships.

“‘We’re going for 3.’ To say that out loud is type of loopy,” Cooper informed ESPN, earlier than his staff’s first-round playoff collection in opposition to the Toronto Maple Leafs, currently tied 1-1. “You aren’t getting these possibilities usually. They do not come round. It is like we have seen the highest of the mountain. Let’s hold going for extra.”

The prospect to three-peat has solely come round 5 instances because the Islanders’ run, with the Edmonton Oilers and Pittsburgh Penguins going back-to-back twice and the Detroit Red Wings successful two in a row as soon as. All did not make it a hat trick.

If the Lightning win a 3rd straight Cup, they cement themselves as a dynasty. In the event that they fall brief? Hockey Corridor of Famer Mark Messier stated that is a particular type of ache.

“It was crushing. It was horrible. It was one of many worst experiences of our careers to be trustworthy with you,” Messier stated of the Oilers’ second-round loss to the Calgary Flames in 1986, which snapped their run of two straight Cups.

“Once you win two in a row, it feels just like the Cup belongs to you. To see another person parade across the ice was not very nice.”

Messier had one other back-to-back run with Edmonton, successful Cups in 1987 and 1988. Hockey Corridor of Famer Larry Murphy additionally had two pictures at a three-peat within the Nineties, with the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Detroit Pink Wings. Nevertheless it was that loss for the Penguins in 1993 — within the second spherical in opposition to the Islanders — that also haunts him.

“It was essentially the most disappointing season in my profession, definitely,” he stated.

Aaron Ward was a defenseman for that Pink Wings staff when it gained back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1997 and 1998, earlier than dropping within the second spherical in 1999 to their archrivals, the Colorado Avalanche.

“I do not know if it is any higher to get eradicated within the Stanley Cup [Final], however to get eradicated within the second spherical … that is pulling out your driver and never getting it previous the novice tees,” he stated.

Because the Lightning push for the three-peat within the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs, they’re discovering how exhausting the trail will get through the third time round. Those that tried the three-peat, however fell brief, can relate.

‘We felt assured’

The Oilers may need had a three-peat, and restricted the Islanders to simply three Cups, had they gained the 1983 Stanley Cup Closing in opposition to New York. However they weren’t fairly prepared but and have been swept by the Isles for the latter’s Cup No. 4.

As a substitute, the Oilers prevented the Islanders from lifting a fifth straight Stanley Cup by beating them 4-1 within the 1984 Closing, beginning their very own run of two straight championships — and getting them to start out pondering dynasty.

“Our greatest likelihood was after we gained in 1985,” stated Messier, now a commentator with ESPN. “In 1986, we nonetheless had Wayne [Gretzky]. Our staff was nonetheless positioned to win. We did not really feel drained. We felt assured.”

Edmonton appeared unbeatable in 1986. The Oilers had a .744 factors proportion within the standings, finest within the NHL. They averaged 5.33 targets scored per sport — it was stated at their peak within the Nineteen Eighties, the Oilers would defeat their opponents earlier than stepping on the ice by means of sheer offensive intimidation.

They demolished the Vancouver Canucks in three straight video games within the first spherical of the playoffs. Then they met Calgary within the Battle of Alberta, and misplaced in a Recreation 7 that featured a monumental gaffe by defenseman Steve Smith, who banked a cross off goalie Grant Fuhr‘s leg to offer the Flames a objective, the third-period lead and the win.

“We felt like we let one slip away in 1986. However we had a wholesome respect for them. And a wholesome dislike,” Messier stated. “Lots of people would say that we obtained too complacent, however I do not assume we did. Calgary was a very nice staff that 12 months. It got here down to 2 actually good groups and we did not play in addition to we needed to play.”

Messier nonetheless laments that missed alternative.

“Did we’ve a ok staff to win? Yeah, we did. Did we win it? No. So it is exhausting to say that we should always have gained it, as a result of we did not,” he stated.

The Oilers composed themselves and gained two straight Stanley Cups once more in 1987 and 1988. However in 1989, it was a transitional season for Edmonton. Paul Coffey had been traded to Pittsburgh through the 1987-88 season. Gretzky turned the face of the Los Angeles Kings after The Trade in summer season of 1988.

“It was a special staff,” Messier famous of the 1989 Oilers.

The Lightning, for essentially the most half, are not a special staff this season. Messier anticipated huge issues from the Lightning within the playoffs.

“After I have a look at Tampa this 12 months … you already know, you possibly can discuss your self into something you need. In case you’re bodily or mentally drained, you possibly can discuss your self into feeling nice,” stated Messier. “I am fairly bullish on their staff. They’ve solidified that backside six a bit bit higher. With Andrei Vasilevskiy in web, they are not going to be a simple out.”

‘When it comes too straightforward, dangerous habits creep in’

The core was stable for the 1990-91 Pittsburgh Penguins, once they gained the franchise’s first Stanley Cup: Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Mark Recchi, Joe Mullen, Coffey and Murphy are all Corridor of Famers.

The core was nonetheless stable for 1991-92 Stanley Cup champion Penguins, though Recchi had been traded for defenseman Kjell Samuelsson, ahead Rick Tocchet and goalie Ken Wregget; Coffey had been moved to the Kings; and Scotty Bowman took over for Bob Johnson behind the bench.

In 1992-93, many exterior the staff have been anticipating a Penguins dynasty, though they have been making an attempt to tamper these expectations.

“It was much like the earlier season. There wasn’t numerous discuss in regards to the huge image. It was nearly making an attempt to win that 12 months,” stated Murphy. “There was a way that Mario’s right here, so our likelihood is even higher. After which it turned out that wasn’t the case.”

Lemieux missed 1 / 4 of the season attributable to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, however returned to have the Penguins rolling into the playoffs. They beat the New Jersey Devils, 4-1, within the first spherical. However then the Islanders shocked them in Recreation 7, on David Volek‘s series-winning objective at 5:16 of extra time.

“Issues have been shifting alongside properly. However then we run into the Islanders, and it is all for naught,” recalled Murphy. “It was only a sense of big disappointment. The chance would not current itself each season.”

His idea behind the Penguins falling wanting the three-peat?

“What damage us is that it got here too straightforward on the finish of the season. If we had struggled going into the playoffs, I feel we’d have fared higher,” he stated. “And when it comes too straightforward, then dangerous habits creep in, and that is what occurred that 12 months.”

Murphy would get one other likelihood at a three-peat with the Pink Wings after they gained in 1997 and 1998.

“Proper place on the proper time,” he joked.

The Pink Wings swept the Flyers for the 1997 Stanley Cup. However the dynamic modified dramatically in 1998, in accordance with Murphy. After the Cup celebration, a limo containing defensemen Vladimir Konstantinov and Slava Fetisov hit a tree. Konstantinov spent a number of weeks in a coma. His hockey profession ended attributable to paralysis suffered within the accident.

Murphy stated having Konstantinov across the staff, together with of their Stanley Cup celebration in 1998, was an inspiration to win back-to-back Cups.

“It positively gave us motivation. To win it for Vladdy,” he stated.

“Successful that first one, there’s that drive to win it for the primary time. The second time, it is a continuation. It is a completely different type of motivation. The third is like, ‘We all know what it is prefer to win the Cup. Let’s do it once more.'”

However the run would cease at two Cups for the Pink Wings.

‘Why would not we have the ability to do it once more?’

Aaron Ward remembers the dynasty discuss for these Pink Wings.

“That was what our media was speaking about. The Detroit Information and Detroit Free Press, on the time, have been at all times speaking about whether or not it was going to be a dynasty. And there was a plan in place to positively win a 3rd and perhaps even problem for a fourth,” he stated.

The followers cherished it. Coach Scotty Bowman didn’t.

“It could frustrate Scotty. He needs to manage the message. He would not need anybody on his staff enthusiastic about any f—ing dynasty,” stated Ward.

The previous NHL defenseman is aware of what the Lightning are going by means of this season. Ward famous that Tampa did not play its sharpest hockey within the common season, regardless of amassing 108 factors.

He watched as Tampa Bay added Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul on the commerce deadline — and remembered the 1998-99 Pink Wings.

“From what I bear in mind of the 1998-99 season was this sense of simply getting by means of to the commerce deadline. Get your self well-positioned. Inevitably, the group was going to exit and get key items. They’ve finished it in earlier years. Bear in mind, there was no wage cap [at that time],” he stated.

On the commerce deadline in 1999, the Pink Wings acquired defenseman Chris Chelios from the Chicago Blackhawks, ahead Wendel Clark from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ulf Samuelsson from the New York Rangers.

“So it performed out precisely as we thought. [GM] Kenny [Holland] would make main acquisitions. When these three guys got here in, I used to be like ‘Chalk it up, we have one other Stanley Cup right here,'” stated Ward. “Once you’ve gained it two years in a row, the sensation was that you just needed to keep sufficient focus to get to the playoffs after which within the playoffs, that is the place the conflict begins. We have confirmed ourselves succesful in two earlier years, why would not have the ability to do it once more?”

The Pink Wings completed first within the Central Division with 93 factors, which was the third most within the Western Convention. They swept the Mighty Geese of Anaheim within the first spherical, outscoring them 17-7. However then they met the Colorado Avalanche for the following chapter of their storied feud — the Avs eradicated the Wings en path to the Stanley Cup in 1996, and the Wings did the identical to the Avs in 1997.

Detroit gained the primary two video games in Denver. The Avalanche roared again to win 4 straight and get rid of the Pink Wings in six video games.

“The bizarre half from that one was … we weren’t complacent, however we did not have a solution,” stated Ward. “As a result of we acquired these guys and we had the depth that we had, we felt fairly assured. One thing about that collection simply did not work for us. Colorado appeared to have a solution, in the identical method we had the reply in 1996-97. All of it went throughout the online. They have been in management. We simply could not do it.”

The gamers have been left questioning why what used to work to championship perfection now not did. “We have been nonetheless enjoying left wing lock. We have been nonetheless enjoying the Scotty Bowman system,” stated Ward. “Perhaps that system had expired. Perhaps they figured one thing out. However we have been having hassle defensively in opposition to the Colorado Avalanche.”

Ward stated to not full the three-peat was a “large frustration” for the Pink Wings.

“Within the two earlier years, you have confirmed to your self that you already know what it takes. It is in your again pocket. It is nearly like a cheat sheet which you can seek the advice of. You have encountered each doable sort of adversity that may be thrown at you,” he stated. “The instant response was a excessive stage of frustration.”

Will the Tampa Bay Lightning really feel the identical factor earlier than the tip of June?

‘Do not squander a chance’

The Lightning’s Stanley Cup wins in 2020 and 2021 got here in truncated seasons with untraditional postseason codecs. Whereas nobody is saying there needs to be an asterisk subsequent to both of them, the Lightning are attempting to win a 3rd straight chalice in an 82-game season with a compressed schedule.

Whereas different three-peaters have performed extra video games, none have needed to win through the distinctive tensions of enjoying by means of a world pandemic, which the Lightning have.

“The scenario with COVID, the disruptions of the seasons and the shorter seasons, you are coping with one thing that is by no means been handled earlier than. They are a deep staff. Final 12 months, they have been lucky with the wage cap scenario,” Murphy stated, in reference to the Lightning getting star Nikita Kucherov again for the playoffs after spending the entire season on long-term injured reserve. “It is an skilled staff that, whenever you watch them play, they only know easy methods to do it.”

Messier has been impressed with all of the groups that approached dynasty standing within the wage cap period. Together with the Lightning, the Penguins gained back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017. The Chicago Blackhawks did not win back-to-back Cups, however they did win three Stanley Cups in six seasons (2010, 2013, 2015).

However as a result of wage cap, the 2010 Blackhawks needed to jettison a superb portion of their supporting forged.

“It is so much more durable now. You have actually gotta tip your cap to Pittsburgh and Chicago for successful three and Tampa Bay successful two now,” stated Messier. “It is exhausting to maintain a core collectively. After which you must help them, as a result of a core alone will not get a Stanley Cup finished.”

It additionally takes endurance. The Lightning misplaced within the Stanley Cup Closing in 2015, and the convention finals in 2016 and 2018. Then got here the essential second: Getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets within the first spherical of the playoffs in 2019, after a 128-point common season.

Then got here the back-to-back Cups.

“After 2019, I used to be a bit skeptical, I am going to let you know that. However we stored the band collectively. We stored the religion,” Cooper stated. “To be on this place, it takes numerous good gamers. It takes a employees. It takes the precise administration positions. It takes an proprietor. They put us ready the place we are able to make the playoffs yearly. However you are not going to win yearly, we perceive that. We get an opportunity to take a swing for the fence, we’ll do this.”

It is a mighty huge swing to attempt to win three straight Stanley Cups. Others have tried to do it because the Islanders’ dynasty within the early Nineteen Eighties, and all have failed.

What would Larry Murphy, who practically pulled the three-peat with two franchises, say to the Lightning at the moment?

“I’d say to them as I’d say to every other staff in every other playoff: Do not squander a chance. You need to really feel like on the finish of it that you just did not depart something on the desk,” he stated. “However all the pieces is simpler stated than finished. They could need it simply as a lot because the final two seasons, however for no matter motive, it will not occur for them.”

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