The sixth and final episode of “Quest for the Stanley Cup,” which premieres at 11 p.m. ET on Saturday on ESPN+ in the United States and on YouTube in Canada, begins with the Tampa Bay Lightning on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup and ends with a tearful reunion with their families before they celebrate with their fans back home in Florida.
In between, viewers get an all-access look at the final push of a 65-day journey inside the NHL hub cities in Toronto and Edmonton that was like none before it in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Lightning and 23 other teams arrived on July 26 not knowing what to expect. To complete the NHL season during the coronavirus pandemic, they were isolated from their loved ones and the rest of the outside world and were pushed to their limits, both physically and mentally.
In the end, the Lightning and Dallas Stars survived to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Trailing 3-1 in the best-of-7 series after a 5-4 overtime loss in Game 4, the Stars were able to dig deep and avoid elimination with a 3-2 double overtime win in Game 5. Corey Perry, who reminds his teammates before overtime that they need only “one shot,” scores the winning goal and then gets to spend some time with his wife, Blakeny, who arrived in the Edmonton bubble earlier in the Cup Final.
After Stars coach Rick Bowness talks about how Perry is a “pain in the butt” to play against, Blakeny tells an NHL Original Productions’ camera crew, “He’s definitely not the person that people think he is on the ice. Everyone who meets him loves him. He’s nice, so kind and generous, and really not the enemy.”
Undeterred by their Game 5 loss, the Lightning are determined to close out the series in Game 6 two nights later. In his pregame locker room speech, coach Jon Cooper doesn’t mention that Tampa Bay can win the Stanley Cup with a victory that night.
“It’s process over outcome,” Cooper reminds the Lightning. “Let’s work our process.”
With the Lightning leading 2-0 after two periods, Cooper reminds the Lightning again about the process during the second intermission, and Stars captain Jamie Benn reminds his teammates that they have nine comeback wins in the playoffs.
“Another comeback in us,” Benn says. “We’re not [expletive] going home. We’re not going home, boys. Let’s go.”
The Lightning stick with their process, though, and close out a 2-0 victory to clinch the Cup. In the handshake line afterward, Bowness, a former associate with the Lightning, hugs many of the players he used to coach.
“Hey, big man,” Bowness says in greeting 6-foot-6, 229-pound Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. “I love you.”
“I’m sorry,” replies Hedman, who is named the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as MVP of the playoffs a few minutes later.
The obvious pain in the Stars’ faces as they leave the ice is in sharp contrast to the joy among the Lightning, who head to their locker room to celebrate by drinking from the Cup.
“Sixty-five days in a bubble,” Cooper says while drinking a toast with his staff. “(NHL Commissioner) Gary Bettman was right. This is the hardest trophy to win.”