LOS ANGELES • As the Stanley Cup was being passed around by his Tampa Bay Lightning teammates, captain Steven Stamkos struggled to find the words.
The Lightning have been among Cup favourites for the past few years, but they kept falling short.
The worst example occurred last year, when, despite being the far-and-away regular-season champions, they were swept aside by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the opening round of the play-offs.
A season later, the Lightning are atop the hockey world, having claimed the Cup with a 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars on Monday to clinch the best-of-seven series 4-2.
“I’m so proud of this team and everything we’ve accomplished. I’m speechless,” Stamkos, who was able to play only one period during the series owing to injury, said on the CBC broadcast. “It’s one of the greatest feelings in the world.”
Coach Jon Cooper said the 2019 postseason taught his team what it took to win. “Sometimes in failure you find success,” he said. “I truly believe the heartbreak we suffered brought us here today.”
The Lightning’s title run culminated an unprecedented 11-month 2019-20 season that was suspended on March 12 due to the Covid-19 pandemic before resuming on Aug 1 in a quarantine bubble in Edmonton and Toronto, Canada.
Tampa Bay, who won the Cup for the second time in franchise history, rode a 22-save shutout by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Goals by Brayden Point and Blake Coleman provided enough offence against a Stars team who simply could not match up.
Point opened the scoring 12:23 into the first period. The Lightning won every play-off game in which he lit the lamp. He led all National Hockey League players in goals during this postseason, edging out Dallas’ Joe Pavelski (13).
The Stars managed only four shots on goal in each of the first two periods, a testament to the Lightning’s strong defensive play. Dallas managed to generate an attack during the third period, but Vasilevskiy blocked all 14 shots that came his way.
At the other end, Stars’ Anton Khudobin made 27 saves, but it was not enough.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE