With Amalie Arena suddenly silent, Gary Bettman cast his gaze over the Tampa Bay Lightning and, maybe for the last time, thought of the terrible days of the pandemic.
The commissioner of the National Hockey League invited team captain Steven Stamkos and the rest of the squad to come and celebrate with him by touching, kissing, and hoisting the Stanley Cup. With their second championship in 10 months, the Lightning sent off another epidemic of a hockey season, breaking with convention by not giving the trophy to the captain to return back to his club.
Repeat as Stanley Cup
For the two-time victors, it was a familiar sight, even if it was completely different from their previous victories.
With the Lightning’s 1-0 victory over the Canadiens in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, Stamkos raised the trophy in front of 18,110 people, an increase of 18,110 from the previous Cup-raising ceremony in September.
All around him, fireworks went off in celebration of the conclusion of another long, difficult season played against the backgrounds of protocols, constraints, and tragedy. Players held up their phones to record Stamkos’s second lap with the Cup, the confetti, and the players’ genuine elation at finally being able to celebrate.
Bettman remarked that the venue was “packed with amazing energy” and that the city of Tampa had won yet another title. “Everything seems normal for the time being.”
The Lightning have made winning look routine, and this time they did it with help from their playoff MVP goaltender, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the fact that there were only two Lightning players on the ice whose names did not appear on hockey’s holy grail.
This was Vasilevskiy’s sixth consecutive shutout to end a series, dating back to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, an NHL record. He made 22 saves, including some in the dying minute of a frenzied game, and is now 2-0 in postseason games following a loss in the last two series won by Tampa Bay in the league.
All of the Lightning are well aware of this. They were motivated to win back-to-back championships after experiencing the initial disappointment of being swept by Columbus in the first round of the 2019 playoffs.
After breaking his left fibula while blocking a shot in Game 1 of the championship, Tampa Bay veteran forward Alex Killorn underwent surgery last week but was still determined to participate. He joined the rest of the crew in a party that was similar to last year’s but also very different.
As head coach Jon Cooper put it, “it’s like we won two completely separate Stanley Cups,” and that’s why it means so much to the team. We couldn’t have scripted a better script than “you do one without fans and then you do one in your own building.”