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In one of hockey’s most cherished rites, the Stanley Cup usually spends the off-season playing with players in villages in Canada and hamlets across Scandinavia and in castles in the United States. But while the coronavirus pandemic raged last fall, the Silver Chalice lingered for quite a while near Tampa, Florida, where the Lightning enjoyed their time so much that they went ahead and won it again.
Tampa Bay ended a chaotic NHL season dominated by a viral scourge, with curtailed schedules and reconfigured divisions and traveling practice teams by beating the Montreal Canadiens four-to-one in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final and won his third title.
Nine and a half months after a 65-day stint in Canadian playoff bubbles to lift the trophy, the Lightning Montreal defeated Montreal 1-0 on Wednesday in front of a full home crowd at the Amalie Arena, ending their second consecutive NHL Romp in the off-season. In that way, they followed the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers by adding another title to a region suddenly spoiled by championships, and joined the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17, the only teams since the beginning of the salary cap era to repeat the 2005-6 season as champions.
“It was like doing it again for the first time,” said Lightning Coach Jon Cooper. “It was amazing to have fans in the building. It’s like we’ve won two completely different Stanley Cups. That makes it something very special for us. “
In winning their last eight playoff series, the Lightning have never lost back-to-back games. In that series, they lagged late in the first period of Game 4 against the upstart Canadiens, who finished 18th out of 31 teams during the regular season – and with a negative goal difference – but spurred Montreal on with a glorious attack on their first final in nearly three decades.
Tried to become Canada’s first champions since 1993, the Canadiens survived Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vegas. But they couldn’t counter the Lightning’s sweeping excellence, which outclassed Montreal in every position, especially in the goalkeeper.
Even when Carey Price saved the Canadiens in Game 4 on Monday and stopped 29 of 30 shots on Wednesday, he couldn’t take on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who cemented his reputation as the best goalkeeper in the league. Against Montreal he had a savings rate of 0.943, which allowed eight goals in 140 shots, and ended this series with a shutout – as in the last round against the Islanders, in the second round against the Carolina Hurricanes and in the first round against the Florida -Panther.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Vasilevskiy, who was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy to the most valuable player in the playoffs. “The whole team definitely deserves that. With five shutouts in a playoff, everything revolves around the team. “
The Lightning represent the modern ideal of an NHL team, laden with goalscorers, elite defenders and a brilliant goalkeeper, and they rampaged through the playoffs after regaining star winger Nikita Kucherov who missed the 56-game season when he was recovering from hip replacement surgery. All he did was amass 32 points in 23 games to be the only players to score at least 30 points in the postseason along with Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux.
“I don’t know anyone who could miss the entire regular season, come back and do what they did,” said Lightning striker Blake Coleman.
Still, Tampa Bay’s most imposing asset might be its depth. Anthony Cirelli and Barclay Goodrow blocked shot after shot, Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta checked out emphatically, and David Savard and rookie Ross Colton – the only two players on the line-up who didn’t win a trophy – combined for Wednesday’s only goal : Savard, a late-season takeover, received the puck from Ryan McDonagh and beamed a neat pass into the archway towards Colton, who overtook Montreal defender Joel Edmundson for position and the puck, 6 minutes 33 seconds behind Price in the second period passed. The Lightning’s defensive engagement – embodied by Goodrow’s block from Shea Weber’s slap shot – ensured that they didn’t have to hit again.
“I only cried 40 minutes on the bench,” said striker Patrick Maroon, who has raised the trophy for three seasons in a row. “I couldn’t even throw my things away.”
The last Canadian team to win the trophy was Montreal in 1993, the same year that Tampa Bay, which heralded the expansion of the NHL’s Sun Belt, closed its inaugural season. The Lightning won their first title in 2004, then roamed the NHL wilderness for the next decade, winning only two playoff series until they entered this dynastic stretch.
No team has won more games – in the regular season or in the playoffs – since the 2014-15 season than Tampa Bay, which has reached at least the league’s fifth semi-finals in the past seven years. The Lightning’s flair for their young players’ development has replenished their talent base, and their masterful manipulation of the salary cap has preserved much of the core that lost to Chicago in the 2015 final, a core that is changing and evolving in style and spirit has and staff.
A team that embraced what Cooper called “some kind of the greatest show on the ice”, trying to score as many goals as possible while depending on their goalkeeper to save it, had to “grim “After it was one of the more confusing postseason meltdowns in the history of professional sport in 2019, after 62 wins in 82 games that set a league record, the Lightning were swept in four games by Columbus in the first round.
“We went from the new kids on the block that, oh my god, 2015 is so much fun watching these guys, all of a sudden it goes wrong and now we’re the team that can’t make it till now you throw that Word dynasty around, ”said Cooper. “It’s a huge wave of emotions in a period of seven or six years that you have to go through. But this core went through it together. “
In response to the Blue Jackets’ humiliation, the Lightning eliminated some of the risk in their game and emphasized defensive responsibility. They added sturdy but seasoned strikers to the bottom six, like Goodrow and Coleman, who in Game 2 delivered the defining moment of the series with a jump goal in the final seconds of the second period. Those players bonded with loyal players like Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who is among the many players who are unlikely to return next season, a victim of circumstances.
The Lightning bypassed the league’s salary cap system by adding Kucherov for the playoffs, but they won’t be able to keep all of them – especially not with Seattle Kraken’s upcoming expansion draft – a situation Cooper said they did Run a certain “last day of school” feeling.
The team’s captain, Stamkos, said it was impossible to overestimate how motivated the team’s upcoming split was as they watched another championship. They discussed taking this opportunity in the middle of the playoffs and playing against the Islanders again in Game 5 of their semifinal series.
“It’s not often that you get the chance to play with a talented team like we did and we just believed in it,” said Stamkos, who missed most of the 2020 playoffs due to injury. “It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup and then two years in a row. I mean, we deserve to go down in history. And this group, no matter what happens from now on, this group will go down in history forever. “
After that, amid the hugs, handshakes and tears on the ice, Vasilevskiy FaceTimet his parents in Russia, and Cooper spoke to his father, and the players looked everywhere for family and friends that people were not allowed to share in their joy last September as Tampa Bay defeated Dallas in an empty arena in Edmonton, Alberta. It is unclear whether players and coaches will be able to spend a day with the trophy in their hometowns, unlike back then. However, Maroon had an idea.
“We hope we get two days in a row with the cup because we missed our day last year,” said Maroon. “So, NHL, wake up.”
Two days for two championships. The newest coronation of the Lightning, brand new and the same, came on Wednesday.