I grew up as a kid from Tampa, but I wasn’t old enough to enjoy the days of a Martin St. Louis, Brad Richards, Dave Andreychuk and Nikolai Khabibulin. My fond early memories of hockey included Sean Bergenheim’s goal against The Pittsburgh Peguins in Game 7, the later years of St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier and the early years of Steven Stamkos.
That’s not the Bolts team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in my first year as a sports journalist, a Finals I did not get to cover due to my inexperience and the magnitude of the series. The team that had a core of captain Steven Stamkos, a breakout stud named Nikita Kucherov, long-time stalwart defenseman Victor Hedman, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn.
Last year, they tied the record for most wins in an NHL season and Nikita Kucherov won the Hart Trophy as the NHLs Most Valuable Player. They got swept out of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Another year as cup favorites, another year wasted for Jon Cooper and the Bolts.
The 2020 playoffs was the strangest, with a play-in round to determine seeding because the regular season never finished. The Bolts landed the Columbus Blue Jackets, who took them to a five OT game. The Bolts exorcised that demon. They then beat the Boston Bruins, who had the best regular season record. Then they took six against Boston.
Now? They play the Dallas Stars. An exhausted Lightning lose game one, but they take game two. In Game Three, their captain steps on the ice for the very first time in the playoffs, but gets hurt two and a half minutes back in. They win 5-2. When they have a 3-1 series lead, they lose in OT. But now? That core finally has their championship.
Armed with different bargains such as Kevin Shattenkirk, who was released by the Rangers this past offseason, and scored the winning goal in Game Four, Pat Maroon, who won the Stanley Cup last year and Blake Coleman, who didn’t even play ten games after a midseason trade from New Jersey, the Lightning played the most physical hockey they have in the last half decade. They always had the skill, but these acquisitions gave them the grit.
For the frontline of Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Ondrej Palat, they proved why they were the most dominant line in hockey.
Nikita Kucherov these playoffs have set the all-time Lightning singles season point record. Ondrej Palat has moved the puck around exceptionally well. On defense, it’s been key blocks from players such as Mikhail Sergachev, while Victor Hedman finished top three all-time in playoff goals by a defenseman.
Andrei Vasilevskiy? He’s been nothing short of phenomenal.
In this game, Tampa dominated the puck even if the score doesn’t reflect it. The defense only allowed an average of four shots over the first two periods of play, while Brayden Point found the net on a powerplay in the first. Blake Coleman, who grew up a fan of the Dallas Stars, broke away in the second for the dagger.
We can’t underestimated how good the line with Coleman has been this year, a key in the playoffs.
Dallas came out of the gate extremely poor, but matched the Lightning late. By then, Lightning had already struck and the Stars were just mere thunder. Dallas had more than double shots on goal in the third period than they did in the first two combined. They did have a power play with under five minutes to go, but they couldn’t capitalize. Anthony Cirelli almost got a short handed goal past Anton Khudobin, who ended up gloving it down. Dallas had control of the puck a majority of their powerplay but couldn’t get decent zone time, which didn’t allow them to empty the net for a six on four opportunity. Tampa ended up having more scoring opportunities shorthanded than Dallas did at full strength. They took Khudobin out of the net with about 90 seconds left in the game. Benn had a great shot with 38 seconds to go, and Barclay Goodrow, Pat Maroon and Anthony Cirelli all dove in front of the net to ensure it doesn’t get past Vasilevsky. Ryan McDonagh had a number of key blocks as the Stars put pressure on with under a minute to go.
This is the first professional sports championship won by a Tampa Bay sports team since 2004.
The Conn Smythe trophy for playoffs Most Valuable Player went to Victor Hedman, who is in his 11th season as a Bolt. He scored 10 goals, third most all-time for a defenseman in the playoffs.
The team opted to surround the Cup this year. They then presented the Cup to Bolts captain Steven Stamkos, who has been with the organization since 2008 and the captain since Martin St. Louis was traded. He only played two and a half minutes total in the playoffs. The first to hold up the Cup was Hedman, who then passed to Ryan McDonagh, then to Alex Killorn, then to Luke Schenn, then to Zach Bedrosian, then to Pat Maroon, then it won’t off air with Nikita Kucherov passing the Cup to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who are undoubtly the Bolts two most valuable players.
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