TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Instead of calling Steven Stamkos to accept the Stanley Cup, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman waved to the Tampa Bay Lightning as a team.
The Lightning sent in another pandemic hockey season like they did the last. winning their second NHL championship in 10 months. Just as Stamkos gathered his teammates around the Cup in September, they put their hands on the trophy before parading it around the ice.
It was a familiar sight for the back-to-back champions, although it was different in every way possible.
After the Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on Wednesday night to end the final in five games, Stamkos won the Cup in front of 18,110 fans, 18,110 more than the last time he had it. done in September.
Pyrotechnics erupted around him to celebrate not only Tampa Bay’s victory in a pandemic, but also the end of another grueling season played against the backdrop of protocols and restrictions. Stamkos took another round with the Cup, players held up their phones to capture a video of the fans and confetti fell from the rafters.
“Full arena, incredible energy and another championship in Tampa,” said Bettman. “I feel like things are normal.
Winning became normal for the Lightning, who did so this time by relying on their goaltender playoff MVP and the only two players on the ice without their names on hockey’s holy grail.
Playoff MVP Andrei Vasilevskiy earned a streak-ending shutout for a fifth NHL record since the 2020 Finals. Finishing with a handful in a frenzied final minute, he made 22 saves to stay unbeaten in games after a loss in the last two playoffs, both played in a deadly pandemic with the Lightning leading every time.
“This group, to go back to back after everything we’ve been through last year in the bubble, to go through this year – ups and downs – it’s amazing,” said Stamkos.
Ross Colton and David Savard weren’t there last year and made sure to leave their mark on Tampa Bay’s final title race. Savard scored Colton’s goal midway through the second period in front of Canadiens mainstay Carey Price who set the crowd on fire at the Amalie Arena.
“Doing it in front of our fans and our families, it’s so special, special” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s out of this world.”
The scene couldn’t have been further from the empty and joyless arena where the Lightning won the Cup last September in a bubble quarantined across the continent in Edmonton, Alta. Tampa Bay joined Pittsburgh as the only consecutive Cup winner in the era of the salary cap, but even more impressively, he did so amid virus protocols with the shortest interval between championships. of the long history of the NHL.
Never losing twice in a row thanks to a combination of Vasilevskiy’s brilliance and one of the deepest lineups built since the cap was put on in 2005, the Lightning has solidified its status as a modern dynasty.
What is the depth? Nikita Kucherov had 32 points to join Mario Lemieux as the only players to lead the playoffs scoring two straight years, and Brayden Point has scored 14 goals in three rounds. Kucherov, Point and Hedman also all played despite injuries.
It was just too much for the Canadiens, who once again relied on Price to keep them in a game. He finished with 29 saves.
The sunbelt franchise in a non-traditional market that didn’t even exist before 1992-93 went through the NHL’s most legendary franchise to do it. The Lightning won the Cup for the third time in franchise history and robbed Montreal of a 25th league championship banner.
The Lightning also added another title for “Champa Bay”, with that title coming on Tom Brady’s heels leading the Buccaneers to a Super Bowl victory in February. The Tampa Bay Rays competed in the World Series last fall.
The mayor of Tampa Bay had suggested the Lightning lose Game 4 on the road so they could win at home, and she got her wish as coach Jon Cooper’s team became the first since Chicago in 2015 to hoist the Cup on the ice at home.
“We didn’t have the opportunity to do it last year. said Stamkos. “It’s redemption for them to be able to spend this time with us. We wanted to win in Game 4. It didn’t work out. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that we were able to do it in front of our amazing fans. . “
The Canadians ran out of gas in what was an otherwise surprise playoff race for a team that opened the playoffs with the worst record in 16 qualifying. Montreal recovered from a 3-1 first-round deficit against Toronto and eliminated Winnipeg and Vegas by reaching the final round for the first time since winning the Cup in 1993.
“The resilience we have shown: just a good team to be a part of” said Montrealer Brendan Gallagher. “As painful as it is right now, sometimes you need to feel this to call yourself the champion.”
The Lightning know this well. Their back-to-back title run was fueled by the adversity of the team overcoming the shock of being swept aside by Columbus in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
Tampa Bay was without veteran forward Alex Killorn, who broke a fibula blocking a shot in Game 1 of the Finals. He joined his teammates for a party like last year but in every way different from this one.
“It’s amazing the wounds these guys play with, the heart they have man”, said forward Blake Coleman. “It takes a lot to get here once. It takes even more to get here twice. I can’t tell you how much these guys mean to me.
AP Hockey writer John Wawrow contributed to this report.
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