Tampa Bay triumphs
by Lucas Aykroyd|29 SEP 2020
The Tampa Bay Lightning, whose only previous Stanley Cup was in 2004, defeated the Dallas Stars to win the 2020 Cup in Edmonton. Pictured is Ryan McDonagh hoisting the Cup.
photo: Perry Nelson / USA Today Sports / Reuters
The Tampa Bay Lightning blanked the Dallas Stars 2-0 on Monday night to win the 2020 Stanley Cup in a six-game final in Edmonton. Although the circumstances of Tampa Bay’s triumph were unconventional, it underscored the old adage: “Your best players need to be your best players.”

The winner came on Brayden Point’s playoff-leading 14th goal at 12:23 of the first period, as the 24-year-old Canadian centre converted his own rebound on a power-play set-up from overall scoring leader Nikita Kucherov (7+27=34). 2019 Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Andrei Vasilevski recorded a 22-save shutout, and Blake Coleman added some insurance with a second-period goal.

Defenceman Victor Hedman was named the Conn Smythe Trophy winner. The 29-year-old Ornskoldsvik native is the third Swedish playoff MVP ever, following in the footsteps of Nicklas Lidstrom (2002) and Henrik Zetterberg (2008) of the Detroit Red Wings.

“It’s a dream come true,” said Hedman, a 2017 World Champion whose 10 goals were the third-highest by a blueliner in NHL playoff history. “It’s the best thing I’ve experienced in my hockey career. What we’ve done as a team inside the bubble, it’s unbelievable.”
Breaking with tradition, head coach Jon Cooper’s group took a photo with the Cup before NHL commissioner Gary Bettman handed pro hockey’s most coveted prize to captain Steven Stamkos.

This title was a long time coming for the talented Lightning. Not only did they lose the 2015 final to the Chicago Blackhawks, but they also fell in the conference finals to the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and the Washington Capitals in 2018. And in 2019, they got swept in the first round by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets after tying Detroit’s 1995-96 record of 62 regular-season wins.

“I truly believe it’s the heartbreak we suffered that brought us back here today,” said Cooper.

His players stayed on the ice with their smartphones to share the celebrations with family and friends who could not be on site for this made-for-TV event.

All games were staged in the pandemic bubble cities of Toronto (Scotiabank Arena) and Edmonton (Rogers Place). The northern Alberta capital hosted both the conference finals and the finals, and is slated to welcome the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship as well.

“To be at this place at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly overwhelming,” said Bettman, who described Tampa’s 25-game, 65-day road to glory as “perhaps the hardest run of all times.”

“It was tough,” said Stamkos, a two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner who earned his first Cup despite being limited by injuries to one goal versus Dallas in just 2:47 of ice time in the playoffs. “These last six weeks have been really emotional for my family and me, both on and off the ice.”

Tampa Bay’s victory capped off an extraordinary marathon season that no one foresaw when the first puck dropped on 2 October, 2019. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL suspended action on 12 March, and did not resume until the 24-team Stanley Cup qualifiers debuted on 1 August.

For Tampa Bay, it's the second Cup in franchise history. In 2004, the Bolts – led by Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards, goalie Nikolai Khabibulin, and coach John Tortorella – edged out the Calgary Flames in a dramatic seven-game final.
The 2020 Lightning will be remembered for providing a ray of light for fans in Florida’s third-largest city amid the darkness of this pandemic. COVID-19 has hit the Sunshine State particularly hard with more than 14,000 deaths and 700,000 cases.

Meanwhile, the NHL deserves congratulations for its commitment to health and safety. Through nine weeks, the league administered more than 33,000 tests to club personnel in the bubbles and did not have any positive cases.

The Lightning delivered a similarly consistent effort on the ice, never needing to go the distance in any of their series. After the seeding round-robin, they eliminated Columbus and the Boston Bruins in five games apiece and the New York Islanders in six games in the Eastern Conference final.
“I think the beauty of our team was that everyone was chipping in,” said Point, who finished second in playoff scoring (14+19=33) and now has a Cup ring to go with his 2015 World Junior gold medal and 2017 Worlds silver medal. “We had tremendous depth. We got contributions from everyone at different times, and that’s what makes this win so special.”

No new IIHF Triple Gold Club members were added this year. However, in Game Five of the final, Dallas forward Corey Perry, who joined those ranks four years ago (2007 WC, 2010 OG, 2016 WC), made his presence felt. The 35-year-old former Hart Trophy winner kept coach Rick Bowness's squad alive with two goals, including the 3-2 double-overtime winner.

Also in Game Five, with his 61st all-time playoff goal, Joe Pavelski surpassed Joey Mullen as the top American in that category. Pavelski, 36, spent 13 years with the San Jose Sharks, and, like Perry, just completed his first season with Dallas.

Stars captain Jamie Benn was almost at a loss for words during his post-game Zoom availability. After several long, emotional pauses, he simply said: “It was a good run. It’s tough here. You’re two games away from the Stanley Cup.”

Despite falling short, the Stars have plenty to be proud of. They showed their collective character by setting a franchise record with nine post-season comeback wins this year.
Longtime backup goalie Anton Khudobin did a stellar job between the pipes (2.69 GAA, 91.7 save percentage, NHL-leading 744 playoff saves) with presumptive starter Ben Bishop not fit to carry the load.

Miro Heiskanen, 21, dazzled with the fourth-most points (26) by a defenceman in NHL playoff history, trailing only Paul Coffey (37, Edmonton Oilers, 1985), Brian Leetch (34, New York Rangers, 1994), and Al MacInnis (31, Calgary Flames, 1989). The clutch heroics of newcomers like Joel Kiviranta and Denis Gurianov will be inscribed in Stars lore.

The start date for the 2020-21 NHL season is tentatively 1 December. However, that’ll likely be pushed forward, as the league hopes to begin welcoming fans back to arenas as soon as it is safe and logistically feasible.
For now, the spotlight belongs to the Lightning, and their theme song, AC/DC’s 30-year-old arena anthem “Thunderstruck,” sounds brand-new all over again.

“We’re going to be champions forever,” Hedman said. “We’re going to be on that Cup forever.”