During this week’s New Jersey Devils game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the broadcast team of Steve Cangelosi and Ken Danyeko made a very interesting point about the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. Out of the last three teams to try for the third straight cup, Tampa has played the least amount of regular season and playoff games combined. Could that be a potential advantage when Tampa goes for the three-peat this spring?
The last back-to-back Stanley Cup champions the Pittsburgh Penguins played 213 combined regular season and playoff games during their cup-winning 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons. The Detroit Red Wings played 201 combined games during their 1996-1997 and 1997-1998 cup-winning seasons. Meanwhile, the Lightning have played 174 combined games during their 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 cup winning seasons.
That’s obviously due to the last few seasons being shortened to 70 and 56 games for the Lightning. The Red Wings and Penguins were stuck playing the full 82 game seasons both time around. Tampa did technically have an extra “playoff round” because of the 24 team playoff had a “play-in” or “round-robin” series for teams. Still, Tampa’s 48 playoff games the past two seasons were on par with Pittsburgh’s 49 playoff games a few seasons before.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have played fewer games over the past two years than other recent back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. Is that an advantage for them, or are other factors more important?
Don’t be so quick to say the extra “rest” can help Tampa capture their fourth cup in franchise history. There are so many more important factors at play, such as Tampa’s third line. Tampa’s old third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow were specifically assembled to prevent an early playoff exit like the Lightning had in 2019. They were also a major driving factor to those two Stanley Cup champions. All three of those players would leave in the 2020 offseason. Tampa might still be successful in the regular season, but the playoffs was when they third line came out to play.
On the plus side, Tampa is also enjoying a career year from captain Steven Stamkos. Stamkos has been plagued by injury throughout his career, including during that first of two cup championships when he only played in 58 of 95 games.
If he can stay healthy, Tampa can enjoy having him in the lineup the entire regular season and playoffs. Meanwhile, Nikita Kucherov continues to miss time with injury. Kucherov has only appeared in 14 games so far this season.
There’s no denying Tampa has had to suit up less to win those two cups than the back-to-back champions before them. Instead of something working to their advantage, it’s merely a coincidence of an incredibly unique (for lack of a better word) situation the league has found itself in. Tampa can three-peat, but the rest they may have had a few years ago will have little to do with it if they can.