The Tampa Bay Lightning completed their second straight through the NHL postseason on Wednesday, beating the Montreal Canadiens four-to-one in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup final series to win their third title in franchise history .
Nine and a half months after a 65-day stay in the Canadian playoffs, things are simmering raise the silver goblet, The Lightning beat the Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5 on Heimeis in the Amalie Arena. In doing so, they join the Pittsburgh penguins, in the years 2016-17, as the only teams in the last 15 years, since the beginning of the era of the salary caps, could repeat as champions.
“Now it’s becoming a legacy,” said Lightning Coach Jon Cooper at the beginning of the series. “When you talk about some of the great teams in a decade, you’d hope they got a mention of the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
The Lightning won their last eight playoff series 32-13 (16-6 last year, 16-7 this year). In that streak, they trailed back late in the first period of Game 4 against upstart Canadiens, who finished 18th out of 31 teams in the regular season and had a negative goal difference, but enlivened the city of Montreal with a glorious attack to theirs first appearance in the final in almost three decades.
Trying to become Canada’s first NHL champion since 1993, the Canadiens survived Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas but couldn’t resist the Lightning’s sweeping performance, which outclassed Montreal on every position, including goalkeeper, where for much of the series Andrei Vasilevskiy did the kind of saves Carey Price didn’t do that.
As the Lightning raged through this postseason after finishing third in a reconfigured one-off Central Division, they also got a shock from the return of perhaps their best player, Nikita Kucherov, who missed the regular season while recovering from hip replacement.
The last Canadian team to win the trophy was Montreal, 1993That same year, Tampa Bay, which announced the expansion of the league’s sun belt, closed its inaugural season. The Lightning won hers first title in 2004, then meandered in the NHL wilderness for the next decade, winning only two playoff series.
But no team has won more games since the start of the 2014-15 season – in the regular season or in the playoffs – than Tampa Bay, which has reached at least the league’s semi-finals in five out of seven years.
A team that had embraced what Cooper called “some sort of the greatest show on the ice” that tried to score as many goals as possible while depending on their goalkeeper to balance their affinity for offense had to after absorbing “grainier” 2019 will be one of the more confusing postseason collapses in professional sport history. After 62 wins in 82 games, which set a league record, the Lightning were swept in four games in the first round by Columbus.
In response, the Lightning eliminated some of the risk in their game, emphasized defensive responsibility and added sturdy but seasoned strikers to the bottom six like Patrick Maroon, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. They bonded with loyal personalities like Alex Killorn, Steven Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson.
The Lightning bypassed the league’s salary cap by adding Kucherov for the playoffs, but they won’t be able to keep everyone for the next season – especially not with Seattle Kraken’s upcoming expansion draft – a situation Cooper said that she gave this run a certain “last day of school” feeling.
“You understand the situation,” said Stamkos, the team captain, at the beginning of the series, “so let’s go out and do our best as a group.”
Lightning did that. Her coronation, brand new and the same, took place on Wednesday.