Celebration sparks in Tampa Bay, the Lightning are Stanley Cup champions

From laughing stock to this year’s champs, the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final on Sept. 28 to win their first Stanley Cup since 2004. 

Last season, the Lightning seemed to be almost a lock-in to win the Stanley Cup after having a 62-win regular season, tied for the best regular season in NHL history. But in the first round, not only did they get upset by a very inferior team in the Columbus Blue Jackets, they got swept in four games. This would subject Tampa Bay to extreme ridicule for the next year. 

Some teams would have crumbled at the hands of such disaster, but instead, Tampa decided to move on and prepare for a new season. In free agency, they made a splash by signing defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and recent Stanley Cup champion Pat Maroon, while on the homefront they extended stars such as Brayden Point and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. 

For the first few months, Tampa struggled, looking like a shell of the team that they were a season ago. But from late December into January, the Lightning finally sparked with a 10 game winning streak, followed by an 11 game winning streak throughout the month of February. At the time of the COVID-19 pause, Tampa was the second best team in the Eastern Conference. 

When it finally became safe enough for the NHL to resume its season, the Lightning headed for the Toronto bubble with only one thing on their minds: redemption. After a round robin involving the top four teams in the Eastern Conference, Tampa didn’t either improve or hurt their position, as they finished as the second seed. 

With the playoffs officially underway, the Lightning found themselves in a first round matchup with none other than the Columbus Blue Jackets. Even as a weaker team from a year ago, the Blue Jackets put up a fight, bringing Game One to an astounding five overtimes and then winning Game Two. Ultimately, Tampa Bay could smell revenge, and eliminated that pesky Columbus team in five games, exorcising the demons that had haunted them for over a year. 

Next up was the Boston Bruins. Even though they were not playing their best hockey and were without star goalie Tuukka Rask, who opted out of the rest of the season, Boston was still the best team during the regular season. Tampa Bay did not take them lightly, as they dominated the Bruins in every corner of the ice, eliminating them in five games.

For the first time since 2018, the Lightning were in the Eastern Conference Final, going up against the New York Islanders, who were making a run at a Cinderella story. Tampa stepped on that dream early, by taking a 3-1 series lead after the first four games. Although the Islanders did take Games Five and Six to overtime, the clock struck midnight for the Islanders in Game Six and the Lightning punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final. 

The Dallas Stars had made it to the finals with the help of hot goalie Anton Khudobin and an abundance of scoring from every line. Unfortunately, they were going up against a team much tougher than any other that they faced in the Western Conference. Not only was Tampa more talented, but also more motivated by their past failures. 

Dallas was able to upset the Lightning in Game One, but the Lightning had a strong response, winning Games Two, Three and Four. With their backs against the wall, Dallas was able to win Game Five in double overtime, giving them the momentum that could turn the series around, but Tampa Bay was not going to let that happen. With the finish line in sight, Tampa Bay smothered Dallas in a 2-0 shutout in Game Six to win the Stanley Cup. 

While there are many stars to credit on this Lightning team, few played at the level that Brayden Point did, having 14 goals and 19 assists throughout the playoffs. The only other player to perform at the same level was defenseman Victor Hedman, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP. Hedman scored 10 goals throughout the playoffs, the third most by a defenseman in NHL history. 

It’s been 16 years since the Lightning last won the Stanley Cup, and those 16 years were filled with much pain and disappointment for both the team and the fanbase. This title is well deserved, and considering they beat out 23 other teams in a bubble with no fans, the Lightning might be the most impressive champions in NHL history. 

Follow Jamie on Twitter @JamieTaris