The Tampa Bay Lightning were crowned NHL champions and hoisted the Stanley Cup on Monday night with a 2-0 shutout win over the Dallas Stars in Game Six. This title feels as if it has been a long time coming for the Lightning, whose young core fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Cup Final and a few years later survived a heart-breaking first-round upset sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets last season. With a flat salary cap set to blow up the roster this off-season, it almost seemed inevitable that this Lightning team would emerge victorious with the franchise’s second championship before the impressive group was torn apart. It also seems fitting that such a truly talented and title-worthy team will go down in history for winning the “bubble Cup”.
Tampa Bay won the Cup in style this postseason, too. The Bolts were one of just two teams to actually earn their regular season seeding in the round robin, entering the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 2 seed. Their path to victory first included vengeance against the Blue Jackets in a five-game series that included a historic five-overtime win in Game One and another overtime win to seal the series. Tampa then took on their greatest rival, the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins, and made quick work of the talented team in five games, again clinching the series in extra time with a double-overtime victory. Next up were the New York Islanders, who had upset higher seeds in each of their first two series and had smother opposing defenses. The Isles couldn’t keep it going against the Lightning though, falling in six games with Tampa again winning the final game in overtime. Finally, the Stanley Cup Final arrived with a match-up against the Dallas Stars, who had defeated championship favorites Colorado and Vegas en route to the title bout. However, Dallas could not keep the upset streak going, with Tampa Bay taking the series in six games with a decisive shutout victory.
The Conn Smythe Trophy was a three-horse race on the Lightning side, with forwards Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman all playing at a historic level. It was the Hedman though who received the award for postseason MVP, due in no small part to his ten goals, third-most for a defenseman in postseason history. Hedman totaled 21 points while averaging more than 26 minutes per night of solid defense in an outstanding all-around effort. Kucherov logged more assists than anyone not named Wayne Gretzky or Mario Lemieux in league history and led all postseason participants with 33 points, which would have been enough to take the Conn Smythe almost any other year. With 32 points, including a league-leading 13 goals, Point was also invaluable to the team’s success. Finally, no team can win the Cup without a stellar performance in goal, and Andrei Vasilevskiy played every minute for Tampa and led the playoffs in save percentage
Also deserving plenty of praise and recognition for this Stanley Cup victory are the NHL and NHLPA, who made the postseason possible in light of difficult circumstances. The Coronavirus pandemic shut down the league back in March and nearly five months later the league and players’ association were able to work together to put together an expanded playoff format that produced months of exciting playoff hockey. After 64 days in the bubble, across two cities, there were zero positive COVID tests, allowing for the postseason to proceed without a hitch. Without this expert oversight, there easily could have been no Stanley Cup champion this season. Hockey fans will never forget what the league and its players, especially those on the Tampa Bay Lightning, were able to accomplish in this incredible summer postseason.