With Avs Exit, Lightning Back-to-Back Cups Even More Impressive

It was a bit surprising to see the Colorado Avalanche lose to the Seattle Kraken, a second-year NHL franchise, on Sunday, April 30, 2023. Although, this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs has been anything but typical.

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The fact that the Avalanche, last season’s champions, didn’t make it out of the first round must be disappointing to their loyal fanbase, not to mention the players and coaches. However, their quick exit certainly brings to light how supremely impressive the Tampa Bay Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cups were in 2020 and 2021 and should further cement their legacy.

Lightning’s Back-to-Back Cups

As has been discussed ad nauseam over the years, the Lightning won the Presidents’ Trophy for most points during the 2018-19 regular season, then lost in one of the biggest postseason meltdowns in recent (until very recent) NHL history to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. The following season, they came back ready to prove their doubters wrong. After the disruption of the COVID-19 lockdown, the team barreled their way through the playoff bubble of Toronto and landed in the Cup Final in Rogers Place in Edmonton, Canada against the Dallas Stars. Despite the stressful circumstances, they still managed to win their second Stanley Cup in franchise history.

In 2020-21, with attendance still curtailed, the Lightning were not ready to relinquish Lord Stanley’s Cup. Having played the entire regular season without star winger Nikita Kucherov, their best offensive player, many wondered how quickly the reigning champs would be eliminated from the postseason. Kucherov, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and the rest of the Lightning answered by defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens to keep the Cup in Tampa.

Recent Champions

During their postseason run of 2020-21, the Lightning were constantly compared to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was the most recent NHL team to win back-to-back Cups in the past decade. The following season, Sidney Crosby and his team finished third in the Metropolitan Division and secured a playoff spot but lost in the second round to the Washington Capitals.

Sidney Crosby Pittsburgh Penguins
Sidney Crosby led the Pittsburgh Penguins to two consecutive Stanley Cups (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Last season, when the Lightning had a chance to win a third consecutive Cup, the media compared them to the Islanders. Their incredible four straight Cup wins from 1980 through 1983 are certainly not in jeopardy of being repeated anytime soon. This season, as Tampa attempted to advance to their fourth straight Stanley Cup Final, the comparisons to the boys from Long Island continued—could the Bolts represent the Eastern Conference for the four consecutive year? Even though we now know the answer to that question is no, it doesn’t make the accomplishments that the team has achieved during the past three seasons any less significant.

Related: Avalanche’s Landeskog to Miss Playoffs With Injury

“Gretzky has said he grasped the commitment needed to win the Cup when he passed the Islanders’ locker room after they beat his Oilers in 1983 and saw them quietly clutching icebags, not champagne bottles. The road to the Cup is the toughest in pro sports, putting a premium on physical and mental endurance” (from ‘Column: In NHL’s salary cap era, Lightning aim to become a Stanley Cup dynasty like no other,’ Los Angeles Times. 6/14/22).

Eight Back-to-Back Champs in NHL History

Joining the Penguins and Islanders, there have been eight total NHL teams who have won consecutive Stanley Cups, and the Lightning are one of them. In the past 30 years, only three teams have won back-to-back championships: they are among this elite group. To illustrate how difficult it is to repeat as champs, since the salary cap was instituted in 2005, only the Lightning and the Penguins have won back back-to-back Cups.

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But, as we all know, “what have you done for me lately” permeates professional sports, leaving fans with short memories. Colorado made a gallant run to secure the top spot in the Central Division with a 51-24-7 record. They played the entire season without their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, and suffered through several significant injuries that doomed them this season.

Also out in the first round are the Boston Bruins, who many felt would be parading around Bean Town with the Cup. However, they will find themselves hoisting different types of trophies during the offseason while several players will be contemplating their future.

Boston Bruins Celebrate David Pastrnak Tyler Bertuzzi
David Pastrnak of the Boston Bruins celebrates after he scored against the Florida Panthers during the first period of Game One of the First Round of the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Panthers would win the series. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

So, Lightning fans, there is a lesson to be learned from this postseason, actually, several lessons. The most important is that winning the Stanley Cup is hard – and to win it twice is, of course, even more difficult. In 30 years, the Lightning franchise has won three – that’s one every decade. I bet a lot of NHL teams would take that record in a heartbeat.