Tampa Bay Lightning Repeat as Stanley Cup Champions
In one of hockey’s most expensive rites, the Stanley Cup typically spends the offseason galloping with players around villages in Canada and hamlets across Scandinavia and market towns across the United States. But with the coronavirus pandemic raging last fall, the Silver Chalice lingered for a good, very long time near Tampa, Fla., Where the Lightning relished their time with it so much that it went ahead and won it again.
Tampa Bay closed a chaotic NHL season dominated by a viral scourge, with truncated schedules and reconfigured divisions and traveling practice teams, beating the Montreal Canadiens four games to one in the best of the seven finals of the Stanley Cup to win his third title.
Nine and a half months after enduring a 65-day stint in the bubbles of the Canadian playoffs to win the Cup, the Lightning edged Montreal, 1-0, in front of a large crowd at the Amalie Arena on Wednesday to complete their second in a row se let off steam in the NHL playoffs. In doing so, they followed the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers in adding another title to a region suddenly marred by championships, and also joined the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 2016-17, as the only teams since the dawn of the era of the salary cap in the 2005-6 season to repeat as champions.
“It felt like we were doing it for the first time,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “It was amazing to have fans in the building. And it’s like we’ve won two completely different Stanley Cups. This is what makes it extremely special to us.
In winning their last eight playoffs, the Lightning has never lost a back-to-back game. In this series, they only hung out late in the first period of Game 4 against the upstart Canadians, who finished 18th among 31 teams in the regular season – and with a negative goal differential – but energized Montreal with a glorious charge for their first final appearance in nearly three decades.
Wishing to become Canada’s first champion since 1993, the Canadians survived Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas. But they could not counter the overall excellence of the Lightning, which outclassed Montreal in all positions, including that of goaltender.
Even though Carey Price saved the Canadiens in Game 4 on Monday and stopped 29 of 30 shots on Wednesday, he couldn’t compete with Andrei Vasilevskiy, who solidified his position as the league’s top goaltender. He had a .943 save percentage against Montreal, allowing eight goals on 140 shots, and finished that series with a shutout – as he did in the last round against the Islanders, in the second round against the Hurricanes in Carolina, and in the first round against the Florida Panthers.
“I still can’t believe it,” said Vasilevskiy, who received the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs MVP. “The whole team deserves it, for sure. Having five shutouts in a single playoff is a team matter.
The Lightning represent the modern ideal of an NHL team, filled with scorers, elite defensemen and a brilliant goalie, and they unleashed the playoffs after reclaiming star winger Nikita Kucherov, who has missed the 56-game season while recovering from hip surgery. All he did was amass 32 points in 23 games to join Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux as the only players to amass at least 30 points in the back-to-back playoffs.
“I don’t know anyone else who could miss the entire regular season, come back and do what he did,” said Lightning forward Blake Coleman.
Yet Tampa Bay’s most impressive asset might be its depth. Anthony Cirelli and Barclay Goodrow blocked shot after shot, Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta backchecked vigorously, and David Savard and rookie Ross Colton – the only two players in the roster who didn’t win a Cup – combined for Wednesday’s lone goal: Savard, a late season acquisition, received the puck from Ryan McDonagh and sent a stunning pass into the crease to Colton, who edged out Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson for position and redirected the puck in front of Price with 6 minutes 33 seconds to go in the second period. The Lightning’s defensive engagement – embodied by Goodrow’s block on Shea Weber’s slap shot – meant they didn’t need to score again.
“I was basically crying on the bench with 40 minutes left,” said forward Patrick Maroon, who has lifted the Cup for three consecutive seasons. “I couldn’t even throw my things away.”
The last Canadian team to win the Cup was Montreal in 1993, the same year Tampa Bay, heralding the expansion of the NHL’s Sun Belt, ended its inaugural season. The Lightning won their first title in 2004, then roamed the NHL wilderness for the next decade, winning just two playoffs before embarking on that dynastic streak.
No team has won more games since the 2014-15 season – whether in the regular season or the playoffs – than Tampa Bay, which reached at least the fifth round of the league semifinals in the seven last years. The Lightning’s flair for developing its young players has rebuilt its talent base, and its masterful manipulation of the salary cap has preserved much of the core that lost in the final to Chicago in 2015, a core that has transformed and evolved, in style and spirit. and personal.
A team that had adopted what Cooper called a “sort of bigger show on the ice” attitude, which tried to score as many goals as it could while depending on its goalie to save it, had to become “more. gravele ”after absorbing one of the most baffling playoff meltdowns in major professional sports history in 2019: After reaching 62 wins in 82 games, tying a league record, the Lightning was swept away in four games by Columbus in the first round.
“We went from the new kids in the neighborhood who, oh my god, in 2015 these guys are so fun to watch, all of a sudden it rocks and now we’re the team that can’t make it to now you’re throwing the word dynasty, ”Cooper said. “It’s a huge wave of emotions to go through over a period of seven, six years. But this core went through it together.
In response to the Blue Jackets’ humility, the Lightning took some of the risk out of their game, emphasizing defensive responsibilities. They added tough but skilled last-six forwards like Goodrow and Coleman, who provided the defining moment of this series, in Game 2, with a goal dipping into the dying seconds of the second period. These players have mingled with stalwarts like Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, who are among the many players unlikely to return next season under the circumstances.
The Lightning sidestepped the league’s salary cap system by adding Kucherov for the playoffs, but they won’t be able to hold everyone back – especially not with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft looming – a situation that they claim. Cooper, had given this run a certain “last day of school feeling.”
Stamkos, the team’s captain, said it was impossible to overstate just how much of a motivating force the team’s impending breakup was as she pursued another championship. They discussed taking the opportunity midway through the playoffs and heading again into Game 5 of their semi-final series against the Islanders.
“It’s not very often that you get the chance to play with a talented team like we did, and we come to believe it,” said Stamkos, who missed most of the 2020 playoffs in due to injury. “It’s so hard to win the Stanley Cup and do it two years in a row. I mean, we deserve to make history. And this band, no matter what happens from now on, this band is going to be made in history forever. “
Afterward, amid the hugs, handshakes, and tears on the ice, Vasilevskiy FaceTimed his parents in Russia, and Cooper spoke with his father, and players all around looked for family and friends, people didn’t were not allowed to share their joy last September when Tampa Bay beat Dallas in an empty arena in Edmonton, Alta. It is not known whether, unlike that time, players and coaches will be able to spend a day with the Cup in their hometown. Maroon, however, had an idea.
“What we hope is to have two days with the Cup, two consecutive days, because we missed our day last year,” said Maroon. “So, NHL, wake up. ”
Two days for two championships. The last crowning of the Lightning, completely new and identical, took place on Wednesday.
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