Over the recent days and weeks, there have been many comparisons made to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s run towards a third straight cup, and the team that last achieved that feat, the 1980-83 New York Islanders. With 40 years separating the teams, there are some similarities that both of these great teams share. One of those similarities is that they have the same mindset about a certain belief: a hatred of losing.
The Lightning Take Losing Personally
That hate-to-lose mindset will be severely tested after losing Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Colorado Avalanche. In the Avalanche, they have run into the toughest opponent in their three-year playoff run. The Lightning are now facing a team that is 13-2 in this year’s playoffs, and has been an absolute offensive juggernaut in the playoffs. That hate-to-lose mentality is about to be put through its biggest test.
It is not like anyone really likes losing. Any person in the sports world, or even in any everyday life activity, usually wants to do well in whatever they are doing. It is how a person responds to adversity that determines the difference between success and failure. The Lightning have consistently demonstrated that they can bounce back from adversity. Up until Games 1 and 2 of their recent series against the New York Rangers, they have not lost back-to-back games during their three-year playoff run. This is where that hate-to-lose mentality comes into play.
What is it that makes this mentality such a recipe for success? “We take (losing) personal,” said Victor Hedman during a recent interview (from ‘The Tampa Bay Lightning Hate To Lose And Have Remarkable Resilience,’ Forbes, May 6, 2022). That’s the bottom line. If you lose two in a row in the playoffs, it is never good since it is first to four.” Hedman practices what he preaches, which is a big reason why he became the 2nd defenseman in NHL history to have 15+ Playoff Points in 3 straight seasons on Wednesday night. The other defenseman who achieved that mark was Denis Potvin, who did that for the 1980-83 Islander teams. Coincidence? Probably not.
Head coach Jon Cooper is very aware of his team’s mentality, and how it has allowed them to be so successful. “It takes character. You have to have that in your room. They’re aware of situations and you have to tip your hat to those guys. To lose a playoff game and then the next night go in and say, ‘We’re not losing this one.’ Cooper said in a recent interview. “You’ve got a really good chance of winning the Stanley Cup if you can do that.”
Related: Lightning Face Uphill Battle vs Avalanche in Stanley Cup Final
A great deal of this mentality developed after the Lightning were swept out of the playoffs in 2019 by the Columbus Blue Jackets. General Manager Julien Brisbois discussed this during the NHL Media Day on Tuesday. “There was never any doubt in my mind that we had what it took to win. It didn’t happen for us that year. It’s meant that we have extra motivation coming back and one additional, very painful experience in our backpacks that we can lean on, learn from, and come back stronger.” It seems that this is where the hate-to-lose mentality came from. This is reminiscent of the classic “Rocky II” movie, when at one point during a fight with Apollo Creed Rocky tells his corner “I ain’t going down no more.” Like the boxer, the Lightning might lose a round but they have no plans to lose the fight.
1980-83 Islanders Had That “Hatred to Lose”
The NHL was a little different back in the early 1980s. There was no salary cap, less parity, and less turnover. The first-round series were best-of-five, not seven. The Islanders were able to keep a core of 16 players throughout their run. The one thing that the Islanders do have in common with the Lightning was a certain mindset. Former Islanders forward Bob Bourne told the Athletic: It’s the hatred of losing, I know, as a team, we hated to lose.” (from ‘Lightning hold the respect of the 1980s Islanders — ‘It’s the hatred of losing’, The Athletic, June 13, 2022)
The Islanders and Lightning also shared a common attitude on the way to their runs. When the Islanders lost in the semi-finals to their rival Rangers, they did not panic and overreact. The Islanders thought that there might be some trades in the offseason but management was patient with the roster. Instead, the Islanders came out with even more resilience than before, something the Lightning did after being swept out of the playoffs in 2019. “To win the Cup or to be in the playoffs, it’s so much different than the regular season,” former Islanders Bob Nystrom told The Athletic. “You’ve got to have a different attitude. You can’t fear losing. You’ve got to want to win more.”
Also like the Lightning, the Islanders varying styles of play, highlighted by the attacking finesse headlined by Mike Bossy and Bryan Trottier, coupled with the productive yet defensive grit of Denis Potvin, who also agrees that the Lightning and Islanders are very similar. “Absolutely they are like those Islanders teams,” Potvin said. “I don’t think it’s a major secret. How well you defend is how you win Stanley Cups. But for me, it was how well we all defended as a team, as a unit, that gave us the edge. And I see that in Tampa.”
One of NFL legendary coach Vince Lombardi’s memorable quotes was that “If you can accept losing, you can’t win.” There are very few teams that have embodied this as much as the Tampa Bay Lightning and the 1980-83 New York Islanders. In just a short time, we will find out if that philosophy will be enough to propel the Lightning to join those Islanders as the latest to win three straight Stanley Cups.