The Tampa Bay Lightning had a spectacular 2018-19 regular season. They finished with a 62-16-4 record and earned an impressive 128 points. Before the regular season ended, they held a ceremony to celebrate winning the 2019 Presidents’ Trophy.
Less than a week after the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, though, the Lightning, Tampa Bay media and the team’s fans were left scratching their heads after the team was swept in the first round by the Columbus Blue Jackets. What went wrong?
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A lot of sports fans say there is no such thing as a curse. And, in the case of the Presidents’ Trophy, the hardware awarded to the National Hockey League team that achieved the best regular-season record, they would likely be right. In the award’s history, eight of its recipients have gone on to win the Stanley Cup in the same season.
No Easy Task
However, consider the fact that the trophy was first awarded following the 1985-86 season. That’s 34 seasons. And 26 teams that dominated the regular season but failed to win hockey’s biggest prize. So, it can be done, but not often and not recently. The last team to accomplish the feat was the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks.
For their part, the Boston Bruins have won the Presidents’ Trophy twice in the award’s history. The last time was in 2014. The Bruins did, in fact, go to the Stanley Cup Final that season, but fell short, losing to the Blackhawks.
Fast forward to the current season. With just about a month left in the 2019-20 campaign, the Bruins find themselves in the lead in the battle for the league’s best overall record. Of course, that is an enviable position to be in, and Boston fans would most likely prefer to see their team stay atop the standings. But that begs the question: does winning the Presidents’ Trophy really hurt a team’s chances of winning it all?
Boston Knows Curses
Fans in a city that suffered through the 84-year “Curse of the Bambino” certainly hope not. Of course, logic dictates that a team’s chances of success in the playoffs has a lot more to do with the timing of individual lines’ and players’ hot streaks and slumps, the ability of coaches to successfully manage lineup changes and the overall health of the team than any imagined curse.
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That being said, a large part of success in any sport is mental. A team that believes it can win and plays like it will do well. Age and experience play a huge factor as well. A young team may not handle adversity as well as one that has “been there before.” On the flip side, a team with little-to-no playoff experience, such as last season’s Blue Jackets, may succeed because of that lack of experience. They are the underdog. Nobody expects them to win. They have something to prove.
The good news is that the 2019-20 version of the Bruins has a mixture of seasoned veterans and young talent. An added bonus is that a large majority of this year’s team is fresh off a playoff experience that took them to the seventh game of the Cup Final.
The talent is there, the experience is there, and the bitter pill of the heartbreaking loss in Game 7 is still there for many of the current members of the roster, without a doubt. Those factors are all part of a recipe for success.
It has been an up-and-down season for the Bruins. The team dominated the first six weeks. In fact, they played so well in that time that a slump that saw them struggling to earn points over much of the next two months did not make much of a dent in their playoff chances.
The Bruins seem to be nearly a lock to make the playoffs this season and to finish with a high seed. Of course, there are still several regular-season games to be played. Guys are banged up. On Tuesday, the team suited up for a game against the red hot Philadelphia Flyers without the services of two of its best defensemen, Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug. That is coming off an all-out war against the Lightning, the top division rival.
Now is the time where the team’s experienced leaders can make all the difference. If captain Zdeno Chara and alternate captains Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand can step up and convince the young guys that this team can win, regardless of injuries or any other roadblocks, the talent is certainly there for the Bruins to go far into the postseason and even win the Cup.
The 2004 Red Sox showed Boston that any supposed curse can be broken. The city as a whole, and its sports teams, have taken that message to heart and produced an incredible two decades filled with championship seasons. There is no reason to believe that the 2019-20 Bruins cannot continue that tradition. Is it too early to cue the Duck Boats?
I am a 46-year-old journalist living in the greater Pittsburgh area with my husband and two cats. I am a proud Penn State University alum. Hockey is life. Not much else needs to be said.