The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) did not stop the Tampa Bay Lightning from securing its spot in history on Monday night. After six games against the Dallas Stars, the Lightning hoisted Lord Stanley for the first time since 2004.
Even though Tampa Bay celebrated in front of vacant stands, its excitement was not dulled when captain center Steven Stamkos accepted the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Stamkos, a first-time Stanley Cup champion, played a little more than 2 minutes in the playoff bubble due to a lower-body injury.
"So many guys would do anything to win the Stanley Cup," Stamkos said. "And there are so many great players who have played this game who never got the chance to experience what we just experienced. My hat is off to every single player and person in this organization. It's amazing to be part of this run, the way we did it."
The Lightning’s 2-0 victory over the Stars marked the end of the 2020 NHL season. After the COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL made a pivot for an extended playoff setup within a quarantine bubble to ensure players’ and staffs' safety.
“It takes a lot to be in a bubble for 80 days or whatever long it was,” said Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman. “But it’s all worth it now, we’re coming home with the Cup.” Hedman, another first time Cup winner, has worn an A on his sweater since 2017 and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff's most valuable player.
Hedman and Stamkos have been teammates since Hedman came to the Lightning in 2009.
"I think I told him 100 times I loved him," Stamkos said. "What can you say? We've been together since Day One. And to go through all the ups and downs, this is what you play for."
Center Brayden Point scored the game winner for Tampa Bay on a first-period power play, while goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy made 22 saves for his first shutout of the postseason. A second-period goal from center Blake Coleman secured the Lightning’s spot in history.
Tampa Bay's victory made for an almost entire roster of first time Stanley Cup champions. Winger Patrick Maroon was the only player for the Lightning to go into the playoffs with a ring. Maroon lifted the trophy for the second year in a row after winning it all with the St. Louis Blues in 2019.
”I thought last year was something else, but this year was something special. I’ve been fortunate enough to be on so many good hockey teams and to go back-to-back, most people don’t get the chance to play in a Stanley Cup Finals, I got to do it back-to-back, and win. I got the chills talking about this,” Maroon said.
Dallas had forced a game six after a double-overtime win but ultimately fell short of the Cup. Stars captain winger Jamie Benn ended his 2020 playoffs with 19 points in 27 games.
After nine weeks, zero positive COVID-19 cases and a new Stanley Cup champion, the 2020 NHL bubble experiment has come to a close.