The Tampa Bay Lightning made their second consecutive romp through the N.H.L. postseason, defeating the Montreal Canadiens, four games 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 spending 65 days in Canadian playoff bubbles to hoist the silver chalice, the Lightning defeated the Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5 on home ice at Amalie Arena. In doing so, they join the Pittsburgh Penguins, in 2016-17, as the only teams in the past 15 years, since the dawn of the pay cap era, to repeat as champions.
“Now it’s going to be a legacy thing,” Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said earlier in the series. “You talk about some of the great teams in a decade. You would hope the Tampa Bay Lightning would be mentioned in there.
” By winning their last eight playoff series, the Lightning have gone 32-13 (16-6 last year, 16-7 this year).
In this series, they were only trailing late in the opening period of Game 4 against upstart Canadiens, who finished 18th out of 31 teams during the regular season and with a negative goal difference, but revived the city of Montreal with a glorious attack to their end. first finals to occur in nearly three decades.
The Canadiens, bidding for Canada’s first N.H.L. champion since 1993, survived Toronto, Winnipeg and Vegas, but they couldn’t counter the all-encompassing excellence of the Lightning, which outclasses Montreal in every position, including goalkeeper, where Andrei Vasilevskiy made the sort of saves that Carey Price for much of the series did it.
As they raced through this postseason after finishing third in a reconfigured one-off Central division, the Lightning also got a shock with the return of arguably their best player, Nikita Kucherov, who missed the regular season while recovering from a hip surgery.
The last Canadian team to win the Cup was Montreal, in 1993, the same year Tampa Bay, announcing the competition’s Sun Belt expansion, completed its inaugural season.
The Lightning won their first title in 2004, then hurled through the N.H.L. wilderness for the next decade, winning just two playoff series.
But no team has won more games since the start of the 2014-15 season — in the regular season or the playoffs — than Tampa Bay, which has reached at least the semifinals of the league in five out of seven years.
A team that had embraced what Cooper called a “kind of the best show on ice” attitude, trying to score as many goals as possible, while relying on its goalkeeper to offset its affinity for attacking, had to get “gritterer” after absorbing in 2019 one of the most confusing post-season meltdowns in major professional sport’s history.
After sprinting to 62 wins in 82 games, tying a league record, the Lightning was swept by Columbus in the first round in four games.
In response, the Lightning eliminated some of the risk in their game, emphasizing defensive responsibilities and adding tough but skilled bottom-six forwards such as Patrick Maroon, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.
They reached out to stalwarts 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 next season — especially with the Seattle Kraken expansion looming — a situation Cooper says.
this run has a certain “last day of school” feeling. “You understand the situation,” said Stamkos, the team captain, earlier in the series, “so let’s go out and do the best we can as a group.” That’s what lightning did. Their coronation, all new and the same, came Wednesday.