TAMPA, Fla. (AP
) — Gary Bettman looked over to the Tampa Bay Lightning
and reached back into the dark days of the pandemic
one last time, temporarily quieting the din inside Amalie Arena.
commissioner summoned not just captain Steven Stamkos, but the entire team, to touch, kiss, and hoist the Stanley Cup
as champions once more, a far cry from the tradition of presenting hockey
's holy grail to the captain to take back to his team, and the Lightning sent out another pandemic hockey season — their second in 10 months — by winning their second championship in 10 months.
Even if it was different in every way, it was a familiar sight for the back-to-back champions.
Stamkos hoisted the Cup in front of 18,110 fans
after the Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens
1-0 on Wednesday night, bringing the final to a close in five games.
Pyrotechnics went off around him to commemorate not only Tampa Bay's win during the pandemic, but also the end of another grueling season played against the backdrops of protocols, restrictions, and heartbreak. As Stamkos took another lap with the Cup, players held up their phones to capture video of the fans, the confetti, and the joy of being able to truly celebrate.
“Full arena, incredible energy
, and another championship in Tampa,” Bettman said.
Winning has become routine for the Lightning, who did so once again by relying on their playoff MVP goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the only two Tampa Bay players on the ice
whose names are not on hockey's holy grail.
Vasilevskiy finished with a handful in a frantic final minute, making 22 saves to remain undefeated in games after a loss over the past two playoffs, both of which were won by Tampa Bay in the pandemic.
“Winning the Stanley Cup is so difficult,” Stamkos said, “and to do it two years in a row, you deserve to go down in history
Ross Colton and David Savard weren't on the team last year, but they made sure to leave their mark on Tampa Bay's latest championship run, with Savard setting up Colton's goal midway through the second period past Canadiens stalwart Carey Price, and the packed house
“To do it in front of our fans and our families, it’s so special, it’s out of this world,” defenseman Victor Hedman said.
THE @TBLightning have won the #StanleyCup for the second year in a row!! pic.twitter.com/4dbCEhtdp0 — NHL (@NHL) July 8, 2021
The scene couldn't have been more different from the mirthless, empty arena where the Lightning won the Cup last September in a quarantined bubble across the continent in Edmonton, Alberta. Tampa Bay joined Pittsburgh
as the only back-to-back Cup winners in the salary cap era, but they did it in the shortest time span between championships in the NHL's long history.
The Lightning cemented their status as a modern-day dynasty by never losing two games in a row, owing to Vasilevskiy's brilliance and one of the deepest rosters assembled since the cap was implemented in 2005.
Nikita Kucherov had 32 points, joining Mario Lemieux as the only players to lead the postseason in scoring two years in a row, and Brayden Point scored 14 goals through three rounds. Kucherov, Point, and Hedman all played through injuries as well.
It was simply too much for the Canadiens, who had to rely on Price once again to keep them in the game — and the series — with 29 saves.
The sunbelt franchise in a nontraditional market that didn't exist until 1992-93 went through the NHL's most storied franchise to win this one, denying Montreal its 25th league championship banner.
The Lightning also added another title to the "Champa Bay" moniker, following Tom Brady
's Super Bowl
victory with the NFL
's Buccaneers in February, and the Tampa Bay Rays' World Series appearance last fall.
of Tampa Bay had suggested that the Lightning lose Game 4 on the road so that they could win at home, and she got her wish as coach Jon Cooper's team became the first to win the Cup on home ice since Chicago
“We didn’t get to do that last year, so this is redemption for them to be able to spend this time with us. We wanted to win in Game 4, but it didn’t work
out. Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that we got to do it in front of our amazing fans.”
The Canadiens ran out of gas
in a surprising playoff run for a team that started the postseason with the worst record of the 16 qualifiers.
“The resilience that we displayed: just a good team to be a part of,” Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher said, adding, “As painful as this is right now, sometimes you need to feel this to call yourself the champion.”
The Lightning are well aware of this, as their back-to-back championship runs have been fueled by the adversity of overcoming the shock of being swept by Columbus in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
Tampa Bay was missing veteran
forward Alex Killorn, who broke his left fibula blocking a shot in Game 1 of the final, had surgery
last week, and still wanted to play, joining his teammates for a celebration similar to last year but unlike it in every way.
“It’s like we won two completely different Stanley Cups, and that’s what makes it extremely special for us,” said coach Jon Cooper. “You do one without fans, and then you do one in your own building: We couldn’t have written the script any better.”
This article was written by AP Hockey Writer