Kris Draper said every repeat champion has a “moment,” and for the 1998 Red Wings, it came midway through the third period of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Nobody expected the Capitals to beat the defending Cup champions in the series, but things started to get tense at Joe Louis Arena when Esa Tikkanen found himself on a breakaway. Tikkanen, who had picked off a Steve Yzerman pass in the neutral zone, did a fake shot and deke that got goalie Chris Osgood sprawling helplessly out of his net. Tikkanen, with a golden opportunity to put the Capitals up two goals, watched the puck roll off his stick and tap off the right post and harmlessly into the corner.
The Red Wings would come back and win in overtime on a Draper goal and sweep the series. But it might have looked a lot different had Washington stolen Game 2.
“I’ll never forget that moment,” Draper said. “You think of all those little scenarios and maybe the hockey gods are smiling down on us and all of a sudden, the puck doesn’t go. Those are the things you need when you’re going to repeat.”
The Lightning believe they have the “recipe” to win a second consecutive Stanley Cup, having been there before. But so did most every other champion the past three decades. The fact there have been just two back-to-back champions in the last quarter century (the 1998 Red Wings and 2017 Penguins) reflects how daunting of a task it is. The ’17 Penguins are the only team to repeat in the salary cap era.
Those who have completed the feat believe there are myriad factors that go into it, from health to the performances of star players, overcoming adversity and, of course, a little luck. By examining the stories of the ’98 Red Wings and ’17 Penguins, it provides a path, and some pitfalls, for this Tampa Bay team as they open the playoffs Sunday against the Panthers.
“First of all, you have to have the mindset like, ‘Everyone hates you, everyone says you can’t do it,'” said Patric Hornqvist, who won Cups with Pittsburgh in 2016-17 and now plays for the Panthers. “It’s almost impossible to do it in the salary cap era. That motivated us to tell them, ‘Hey, we almost have the same group, same core players, we know we have a great team and what it takes to go all the way.
“It’s about getting the bounces at the right time, maybe a call. It’s a thin line, but at the same time, the best team always wins.”