Every team has to learn to win, especially those, such as the Lightning, that have gone so long without doing so.
We're not talking about bringing one's "A" game to a marquee matchup (Tampa Bay against the Capitals, for example). We're talking about marshaling the focus and attention to detail needed to win, say, Game 45 in an 82-game season against a team nowhere near you in the standings. It is a concept the still-maturing, still-new-to-winning Lightning has yet to grasp.
Tampa Bay is 1-4-4 against the Islanders, Devils, Oilers, Flames and Panthers, which entered Saturday a combined 78-112-23. Twelve points have been left on the table. Keep them in mind when the Southeast Division title fight is down to the wire.
Much of it is human nature. As coach Guy Boucher said, "If there's a little man menacing you, you're not scared. I could tell you he knows karate and he's going to kick your butt, (but) it's human. You're not scared."
So motivation and accountability must come from within. Chico Resch knows all about that. A goaltender for the Islanders from 1974 to 1981, he saw his team mature from a doormat to Stanley Cup champion. Yes, it had Hall of Fame talent, he said, but players also challenged each other to prepare and perform.
"It's what happens in the (locker) room," Resch said. "You have to have a bunch of people who never want to fall short of that warm feeling of winning."
For the Islanders, he said, "it was Bobby Nystrom, Gary Howatt, Denny Potvin. When (Mike Bossy) was sitting there smoking that cigarette, we knew he was mad because he hadn't scored. (Bryan Trottier) and 'Boss' had good competition, so there was so much going on inside. We had a real honest room."
A longtime TV analyst for the three-time Cup champion Devils, Resch said of a Hall of Fame member of those teams, "Scott Stevens' demands on everyone were so great that he also didn't allow letdowns."
Said Boucher: "Every day it's a brainwash of how we do things and how we've got to be, so that whenever you play those teams, it's not a matter of urgency. It's just a matter of your habits are so ingrained, it doesn't matter who you play."