The Tampa Bay Lightning are the 2020 Stanley Cup champions, hoisting the NHL’s championship trophy Monday in a near-empty Rogers Place to cap off a surreal, bifurcated, bubbled hockey season for the ages.
Brayden Point and Blake Coleman scored the goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots for his first career playoff shutout in a 2-0 win, giving Tampa Bay a 4-2 triumph in the best-of-seven series.
The Lightning players exploded off the bench as the seconds ticked to zero, tossing sticks and gloves and swarming Vasilevskiy, their whoops and hollers echoing off the empty seats and capacious tarps.
Defenceman Victor Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
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“This is the best moment of our hockey lives,” Hedman told reporters just before the players popped and sprayed champagne in the visitors’ locker room.
“It’s been a grind. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s over. We’re going to be Stanley Cup champs forever.
“Our kids [and] our grandkids, if they look at the Stanley Cup they’re gonna see our names. You can’t even imagine how proud you’re going to feel.”
No fans have been allowed in to these so-called bubbled playoffs, with players isolated between contests to prevent contracting COVID-19.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman walked out to centre ice to award the trophy, but this time not accompanied by the lowing boos from fans that had become an unofficial league tradition.
“To win in this place at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly overwhelming,” said Bettman before he handed the silver barrel-and-bowl trophy to Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who proceeded to lift it with two hands over his head.
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In a twist on the usual Cup presentation, the players, coaches and staff gathered around Bettman, instead of standing off to the side as he officially awarded the Cup to the team captain.
The players cheered, fireworks went off behind the players’ benches, and other devices delivered bursts of flames, the heat of which could be felt high up in the arena.
Stamkos did not dress for the game, and played only 2:47 in the entire playoffs due to injury. He came out in his hockey equipment and jersey to accept the award and his first Stanley Cup.
He said he didn’t gear up until there was about three minutes left in the game.
“We didn’t want to jinx anything,” said Stamkos.
“Just to be out there and celebrate with the guys … It’s something we talked about at the beginning of training camp, that it’s not just going to take 20 guys to win the Stanley Cup, it’s going to take every single guy who was in this bubble and more.”
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The traditional skate around the ice, hoisting the Cup in front of rapturous fans, was altered to the players skating around centre ice, clapping and celebrating as each one in turn took a spin with the mug amid rock music pumped over the loudspeaker.
Fans celebrating in Tampa were shown on all four sides of the video screen that hangs over centre ice.
It’s the second Stanley Cup in the 28-year history of the franchise. The first was in 2004.
It’s the first Cup for every Lightning player except Pat Maroon. The burly, bearded veteran winger won it all last season with the St. Louis Blues.
It’s also the first Cup win for head coach Jon Cooper, in his seventh full season behind the Lightning bench.
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He defeated Dallas interim head coach Rick Bowness. Bowness had been hired by Cooper as a mentor in 2013 and served the next five years with the Lightning as his assistant. This was the first Stanley Cup where an assistant faced his former head coach.
Vasilevskiy was 18-7 of the post-season. The 26-year-old Russian played every minute of every game for the Lightning through 25 games.
Tampa Bay outshot Dallas 29-22 in the final game.
Point scored on the power play midway through the first period, sailing through the slot untouched and putting his own rebound past Dallas goalie Anton Khudobin. Coleman made it 2-0 by capitalizing on a turnover midway through the second frame, one-timing a cross-ice pass from Cedric Paquette.
Nikita Kucherov assisted on Point’s goal and was the NHL’s top scorer in the playoffs: seven goals and 34 points. Point was second at 14 goals and 33 points.
Knocking on the door
The Bolts had been knocking on the Cup door in recent years, making the final four in four of the last six seasons. In 2015 they lost to Chicago 4-2 in the Stanley Cup final.
Nine members of the current Tampa roster, including Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Alex Killorn, Vasilevskiy, and Tyler Johnson were on that Cup-losing squad.
It’s a capstone to bizarre season that began as normal in October 2019, but was halted, and ultimately cancelled around the 70-game mark, on March 12, due to COVID-19.
The NHL resumed play at the start of August in a 24-team, two-month tournament, held in hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, with players and staff isolated and tested regularly to prevent contracting COVID-19. The NHL reported Monday there had been no positive tests in the nine-week bubble.
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