Lightning Crowned 2020 Stanley Cup Champions
Upon the postponement of the NHL season due to the coronavirus, fans grew fearful that a Stanley Cup champion would not be crowned. However, months later, the Tampa Bay Lightning raised the trophy, securing the cup for the first time in 16 years. The second seed Lightning paved their way through the playoffs by beating the Blue Jackets and the Bruins in five games, and the Islanders in six games. They met the Stars from Dallas in the championship, skating past them in only six games.
Before the coronavirus, the Tampa Bay Lightning competed in a total of 70 games, emerging victorious in 43 of them. Their impressive record earned the second ranked spot in Eastern Conference Atlantic Division, but their season was suddenly halted due to the pandemic. NHL Commissioner Garry Bettman announced on March 12 that the remainder of games would have to be placed on pause, but the league would look into other options to crown a 2020 Stanley Cup Champion. “Our goal is to resume play as soon as it is appropriate and prudent, so that we will be able to complete the season and award the Stanley Cup,” said Bettman in a press conference.
Over four months later, the top 24 of the 31 NHL teams traveled to Canada to participate in the “bubble,” isolated hotels that players resided in to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while still competing for a championship. Unlike the NBA, the NHL bubble included two locations, Edmonton and Toronto, each housing 12 teams split based on their conference. Since the Lightning participated in the Eastern Conference, they packed their bags and travelled to Edmonton to finish what they started.
Even though the regular season was already concluded, the hockey teams in the bubble did not jump straight to playoffs. Each team played a round-robin of games in order to be seeded, as only 16 teams made the elimination rounds. The Lightning played three round-robin games, splitting games with the Flyers from Philadelphia and defeating the Capitals from Washington, D.C.
The Lightning comfortably sailed to the championship, as no team could force a seven game series against their formidable Tampa Bay opponent. The Lightning met the hot Dallas Stars in the championship, who were straight off a huge victory against the No. 1 seeded Vegas Knights. However, the Stars were no match for the talented Lightning offense. The Stars took game one, but that was followed by three games in favor of the Lightning.
Down three to one, there was very little chance of three straight Dallas victories. The Stars managed to take game five in a thrilling double overtime victory, but this was not enough to turn the tide. The Lightning finally wore out the Stars, taking game six with a score of 2-0, completing the series in favor of Tampa Bay.
After the final buzzer, Victor Hedman, a Tampa Bay defensemen, received the Conn Smythe most valuable player trophy. Hedman was brilliant throughout the series, recording a total of seven points and most notably tallying a goal and two assists in game three. After an exhausting season, Hedman raised the Holy Grail Trophy, bringing the Stanley Cup back to Florida.
Photo: MVP Victor Hedman raises the Stanley Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Photo via @tblightning on Instagram