EDMONTON, AB — The joyful yells from the bench could be heard in the empty arena in the final seconds and the roar from players when Commissioner Gary Bettman called for Steven Stamkos to accept the Stanley Cup echoed even louder.
The triumph of winning the NHL championship in a bubble was certainly no less sweet for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper coached the Norfolk Admirals to the AHL Calder Cup Championship in 2012. There are four former Admirals still on the Lightning roster.
Brayden Point scored his playoff-best 14th goal and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6 on Monday night to win finish off the most unusual NHL postseason in history, staged nearly entirely in quarantine because of the pandemic.
The clock hitting zeros with no fans in attendance set off a celebration for a team that endured years of playoff heartbreak and two months in isolation - and their fans outside Amalie Arena in Tampa celebrated right along with them.
“It takes a lot to be in a bubble for 80 days or whatever long it was,” said defenseman Victor Hedman, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. "But it’s all worth it now, we’re coming home with the Cup.”
Before giving that trophy to Hedman, Bettman gave all the players credit for enduring a quarantine largely on their own for so long.
“To be in this place at this time under these circumstances is remarkable and frankly overwhelming," Bettman said. “Frankly, all of the players who participated should feel like MVPs.”
Goals from Point and Blake Coleman and a 22-save shutout by Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 6 were enough to power the Lightning to their second championship after winning it in 2004. That one came just ahead of a lockout that wiped out an entire season and similar uncertainty hangs in the air now because of the coronavirus.
Questions about the future were put off for a celebration by the Lightning and by the NHL, the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to crown a champion since the start of the pandemic.
Tampa Bay's core group closed out the final with an almost poetic display of what got the Lightning to this point over the past several years and months. Point's goal came with assists from longtime standouts Nikita Kucherov and Hedman, key addition Coleman scored on an odd-man rush in the second and Vasilevskiy did his job on a relatively slow night in net.
Veteran defenseman Braydon Coburn was the first to get the Cup after Stamkos and Hedman, even though he played just three games in the postseason. He played 964 regular-season and 137 playoff games to get to this point, losing in the final twice before.
“The beauty of our team is everyone was chipping in,” Point said. “We got contributions from anyone and everyone at different times, and that’s what makes this win so special.”
It was more of a coronation than a challenge as the dominant Lightning outshot the Stars 29-22 and looked like the powerhouse they've been for much of the past decade.
In the final alone, Tampa Bay's power play was clicking and turned the series around. Point's goal made it 7 for 16 over the past five games to decimate the Stars, who were undone by their lack of discipline and couldn't get enough “Dobby” magic from goaltender Anton Khudobin.
“There is no feelings right now,” Khudobin said. “Just empty, you know. We battled hard, especially with this situation, it’s not easy to stay without families for two months and stuff like that.”
The Stars simply ran out of gas after injuries piled up.