EDMONTON, Alberta－The Tampa Bay Lightning are the champions of bubble hockey.
Brayden Point scored his playoff-best 14th goal and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 2-0 on Monday night to win the Stanley Cup and finish off the most unusual NHL postseason in history, staged nearly entirely in quarantine because of the pandemic.
The clock hitting zeros in an empty arena nonetheless set off a joyful celebration for a team that endured years of playoff heartbreak and two months in isolation.
“It takes a lot to be in a bubble for 80 days or whatever,” 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.”
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 also came with the league on the verge of a labor stoppage, 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 the NHL. Getting this done was a triumph of sorts, financial woes notwithstanding. The NHL is 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. Their new star Point scored a power-play goal in the first period with assists from longtime standouts Nikita Kucherov and Hedman, key addition Coleman killed a penalty and scored on an odd-man rush in the second, and Vasilevskiy did his job on a relatively slow night in net.
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.
“The beauty of our team is everyone was chipping in,” Point said. “We got tremendous depth. We got contributions from anyone and everyone at different times, and that’s what makes this win so special.”
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 saves from goaltender Anton Khudobin.
“I couldn’t ask more from our players,” said Dallas coach Rick Bowness. “So it wasn’t enough to beat that team, so it wasn’t enough. But it’s better than sitting here saying how we could done this or could have done. We don’t second-guess anything we’ve done.”