Top moments of season for Stanley Cup champion Lightning

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TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup champions again.

The Lightning won the Stanley Cup for a second straight season with a 1-0 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday.

They join the Pittsburgh Penguins from four years ago as the most recent teams to repeat as Stanley Cup champs. No team had repeated since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998 prior to the Penguins doing it 2016 and 2017.

The Lightning eliminated the Florida Panthers in six games, the Carolina Hurricanes in five, the New York Islanders in seven and the Canadiens in five. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy had a shutout in each series-clinching win.

Here are some of the highlights along the Lightning’s road to the Stanley Cup:

BEST MOMENT: Receiving the Stanley Cup

For the second straight year, every Tampa Bay player huddled around the Stanley Cup with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman speaking about the magnitude of the moment. Commissioner Bettman eventually handed the trophy to captain Steven Stamkos, who began the Cup procession around the ice. Each player got his chance to take a lap with the Cup before handing it off to the next. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik was part of the procession after not being with the team in Edmonton when they won last season. When Jon Cooper raised the Cup, the 18,000-plus still inside Amalie Arena roared and the Lightning coach could be seen on the giant scoreboard mouthing, “I love you” to the crowd.

TURNING POINT: Nikita Kucherov‘s return for the playoffs

Kucherov, the Tampa Bay forward, was in the lineup for Game 1 against the Panthers in the first round after missing the entire 56-game regular season recovering from hip surgery he had Dec. 29. He made an instant impact with two goals and an assist in a 5-4 win. Kucherov never stopped, not even with an injury that caused him to miss most of Game 6 against the Islanders. He was back for Game 7 and said it was never a question of if he was going to play. Kucherov scored five points (three goals, two assists) in the Final. He led all playoff scorers for a second straight season, finishing with 32 points (eight goals, 24 assists) in in 23 games.

BEST MOVE MADE: Acquiring David Savard

Savard, a defenseman, was the Lightning’s only in-season acquisition, coming in a three-team trade involving the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings on April 10. He was a mainstay on Tampa Bay’s blue line throughout the playoffs except for missing the first three games against the Hurricanes in the second round because of an upper-body injury. Savard played regularly with Mikhail Sergachev, providing physicality and added mobility to the Lightning’s third defense pair. 

BEST MOVE NOT MADE: Breaking up the top line

Kucherov regained his spot at right wing on Tampa Bay’s No. 1 line with center Brayden Point and left wing Ondrej Palat the moment he returned to the lineup for Game 1 against Florida. It would have been easy for Cooper to try to ease Kucherov into the lineup after not playing in a game for more than seven months, but he plugged Kucherov right back in, and the line was arguably the Lightning’s best. Another coach might have hesitated to make such a move out of fear of disrupting chemistry built through the regular season. Good thing Cooper didn’t.

SIGNATURE WIN (REGULAR SEASON): Feb. 22 vs. Hurricanes 

The Lightning ended a shutout streak against the Hurricanes that lasted 178:19 in a 4-2 win at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, two days after losing 4-0 in the same building. The win also ended a six-game point streak for Carolina and began a six-game winning streak and nine-game point streak (8-0-1) for Tampa Bay, including three in row against the Hurricanes. It was a sign of what was to come in the postseason. 

SIGNATURE WIN (PLAYOFFS): June 5, Game 4 vs. Hurricanes, second round

The Lightning were coming off a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 3, cutting their lead to 2-1 in the best-of-7 series. Carolina took a 4-2 lead in Game 4 at 12:41 of the second period on a goal by defenseman Jaccob Slavin, but Tampa Bay responded with three goals in a span of 4:59 before the intermission to go in front 5-4 lead. The Lightning added a goal from Kucherov at 6:01 of the third for a 6-4 victory that gave them a 3-1 series lead, before eliminating the Hurricanes 2-0 in Game 5 three days later.

MVP: Andrei Vasilevskiy

The Lightning goalie was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the playoffs. He went 16-7 with a 1.90 goals-against average, .937 save percentage and five shutouts, and became the first goalie in NHL history with a shutout in each series-clinching playoff victory. Vasilevskiy set an NHL record with five straight shutouts in series-clinching wins going back to Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final last year. He was 7-0 in games following a loss in these playoffs and is 14-0 in games following a loss in the past two postseasons.

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR: Ross Colton

Colton, a forward, scored the Stanley Cup clinching goal in a 1-0 victory in Game 5 against the Canadiens and was the only rookie who played for Tampa Bay in the playoffs. He ws one of five to play for the Lightning during the regular season, but one of two to play at least 30 games (defenseman Cal Foote played 35). He was a regular on the Lightning’s fourth line in the playoffs until moving up to the second line in Game 3 against Montreal because of forward Alex Killorn‘s leg injury. Colton scored six points (four goals, two assists) and played 10:14 per game in 23 postseason games after scoring 12 points (nine goals, three assists) in 30 regular-season games.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Record in games following a loss

Tampa Bay did not lose consecutive games in the playoffs for the second straight year and hasn’t lost two straight postseason games since losing four in a row against the Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference First Round. The Lightning were 7-0 following a loss in the playoffs last season and 7-0 again this season. Counting their win in their first playoff game last year, the Lightning have won an NHL record 15 straight playoff games following a loss in the postseason. 

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