Photo by Twitter / @TBLightning
By Colleen Meosky
While the NHL Playoffs have created many incredible stories about journeys to victory, there are few, if any, that have demanded more determination and strength than this season’s. The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars to demonstrate the most grit and skill to claim the Stanley Cup this year.
On March 12, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the league’s decision to pause the season due to the COVID-19 pandemic after an NBA player tested positive with the virus. In the following weeks, many questions were asked about the thought of resuming hockey. It was the only pressing matter on NHL podcasts and talk shows. The league finally announced their Return to Play Plan after much deliberation with health experts, players, and the Board of Governors on May 26. Gary Bettman assured that the league values safety of the players and employees above resuming the season. They extended the number of teams admitted into the playoffs to 24, and hockey started back up again on August 11 in the “hub cities”, Toronto and Edmonton.
It was no surprise Tampa Bay was one of the 24 teams to qualify for the playoffs. Prior to the pause in March, they had 92 points in 70 games, were 4th in NHL standings, and 2nd in the Eastern Conference. In the 2018-19, the team had incredible regular season statistics. They were 1st in the league standings and 21 points ahead of the number 2 team, the Calgary Flames, and they also tied the league record for most amount of wins in the regular season with 62. However, they were brutally and unexpectedly swept in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, losing the final game of their season 7-3. Fortunately for Tampa, they bounced back with their enormous star talent.
Tampa Bay has some of the finest players in the NHL and the world. Captain Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and Andrei Vasilevskiy are NHL All Stars. Victor Hedman is often regarded as a generational defensemen talent, and last season Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the best goaltender of the year. Despite a hernia injury, Stamkos made quite the impact in his five shifts against Dallas in game 3 of the series. The captain returned strongly with a goal that left his team up by 2 in the first period.
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The Lightning went on to win the series in Game 6 with a score of 2-0. Blake Coleman and Brayden Point scored the goals, and excellent goaltending by Vasilevskiy did not let the Stars back into the game through the scoreless second half of the game.
Tampa Bay played up to the finals in the Toronto NHL ‘bubble’, and the Stars played in Edmonton. All players and staff lived without their families while they were competing, and for these two teams, it meant not seeing their families for two months until the players were allowed to invite only immediate family members to attend the finals. “The boys, you know, obviously with Covid, they came together as a group. We had a plan. They sacrificed, being away from their families and kids and I think it’s probably one of the hardest trophies to win,” said left winger Patrick Maroon. He is the only Tampa Bay player to have already won a Stanley Cup, having done so last year with the St. Louis Blues.
After months of uncertainty, isolation from loved ones, and 32, 374 COVID-19 tests that all came back negative, the Tampa Bay Lightning emerged victorious and became the 2020 Stanley Cup champions in the strangest postseason of the National Hockey League.