|A Victor Hedman card.|
The skeptics viewed them as the team with exceptional skill but one that lacked the will to win a championship. The Lightning had won 42 or more games in each of the past seven regular seasons.
They made the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and fell in that best-of-seven series 4-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks, who at that time captured their third Stanley Cup title in six years.
In 2018-19, Tampa Bay had a dream regular season posting a 62-16-4 record to finish first overall in the NHL for the first time in franchise history. Their 62 wins matched the regular season record put up by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96.
The regular season success translated into post-season disappoint for the Lightning as they were swept 4-0 in a best-of-seven first round series by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 NHL playoffs.
Returning the bulk of their roster, the Lightning entered the 2019-20 campaign and the 2020 NHL playoffs as arguably the team with the most to prove. They were the team skeptics could easily write off expecting another disappointment to happen.
In what proved to be season that no one could have written a script for, the Lightning came of age.
On Monday night in the hub city of Edmonton, the Lightning would not be denied. Skilled Lightning centre Brayden Point, an alumnus of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors, scored his 14th goal of this post-season burying the rebound of his own shot on the power play to put his side up 1-0 on the Dallas Stars at the 12:23 mark of the first period.
|A Brayden Point card.|
Following the gut punch of the 2019 playoff loss to the Jackets, the Lightning were having a strong regular season in 2019-20 posting a 43-21-6 record to sit second overall in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
At that point, world events caused everything to ground to a halt due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The NHL season was paused on March 12 as the entire sports world in North America came to a stop due to unprecedented shutdowns.
Still, the NHL and NHL Players’ Association worked to put together a plan to complete the 2019-20 campaign and award the Stanley Cup. An expanded 24-team post-season tournament would be played in a bubble format without fans in the cities of Edmonton and Toronto.
On July 10, NHL training camps opened for the clubs taking part in the post-season tournament, and the Lightning moved into the Toronto hub city on July 26. The post-season officially began on Aug. 1.
The Lightning were one of four teams in the Eastern Conference to have a bye past the qualifying round into a best-of-seven series in the round of 16. They played three round robin games to determine the top seeds in the Eastern Conference bracket taking two out of three of those contests.
In the round of 16, the Lightning once again met the Jackets and downed them 4-1. Tampa Bay proceeded to advance to a best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Boston Bruins, who fell in last year’s Stanley Cup final in seven games to the St. Louis Blues.
|A Nikita Kucherov card.|
For the conference title series, all hub city action was condensed into Edmonton from that point onwards.
The up and coming New York Islanders were the foe in the Eastern Conference Championship series and the Lightning prevailed in that best-of-seven set 4-2.
That set up the showdown with the Stars, who had a solid 37-24-8 mark in the regular season.
The Stars took the first game of the series, but the Lightning roared back with three straight wins. Tampa Bay had a chance to win the Stanley Cup on Saturday, but Stars pulled out a thrilling 3-2 victory in double overtime to force Monday night’s Game 6.
The Lightning did everything they could to ensure a series decided Game 7 wouldn’t be required.
After Point gave the Lightning a 1-0 edge, they netted a key insurance goal in the second.
At the 7:01 mark of the second, the Lightning entered the Dallas after getting the puck off a centre ice zone turnover by the Stars. Lightning centre Blake Coleman converted a cross-ice pass from linemate Cedric Paquette to put Tampa Bay up 2-0.
The Lightning controlled play over the first 40 minutes holding a 21-8 edge in shots on goal.
Still, the Stars make a big push back in the third holding a 14-8 edge in shots on goal in the frame, and the Lightning showed their mental toughness in holding the fort defensively.
|An Andrei Vasilevskiy card.|
The unsung Vasilevskiy made 22 saves to pick up the shutout in goal.
At the other end, Stars netminder Anton Khudobin, an alumnus of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades, deserved a better fate turning away 27 shots to take the setback for Dallas.
Following the game, injured Lightning captain Steven Stamkos dressed in his gear and raised the Stanley Cup. He appeared in one game in the post-season scoring a key goal in the Lightning’s 5-2 victory in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final.
Veteran offensive defenceman Victor Hedman showed he was one of the best in what he does in the NHL. He was named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the MVP of the NHL playoffs.
The Swede had 10 goals, 12 assists and a plus-13 rating in the plus-minus department in 25 post-season games. Hedman picked up an assist on Point’s power-play goal on Monday.
Point had 19 assists to go with his 14 goals for 33 points in 23 games to finish second in post-season scoring for the Lightning. Star right-winger Nikita Kucherov had an outstanding post-season topping Tampa Bay in scoring with seven goals and 27 assists for 34 points in 25 games.
Kucherov also picked up an assist on Point’s power-play goal that was the Stanley Cup winner.
|A Steven Stamkos card.|
After the Lightning were swept in the first round of the 2019 NHL playoffs, there were questions about whether Cooper was the man for the job to lead Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup title. On Monday night, it was mission accomplished for Cooper.
Going forward in these pandemic times, there is lots of uncertainty about the fate of a 2020-21season for the NHL.
It is uplifting to know the NHL successfully held a post-season tournament in 2020 in an expanded form. The players were also away from their families outside of some of the Lightning and Stars families making it to the Edmonton bubble for the Stanley Cup final.
As of right now on Monday night, it is only right to allow the Tampa Bay Lightning to celebrate their accomplishment of winning the Stanley Cup, because they have more than paid their dues to get to this point.
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