TAMPA, Fla. – For the second straight year the Stanley Cup was presented at Amalie Arena. Unlike last summer, though, it was the visiting team that paraded the most coveted trophy in sports around the ice.
On Sunday evening, the Colorado Avalanche won their third Stanley Cup, and first in 21 years. A 2-1 win over the Lightning in Game 6 ignited a celebration among the visitors that continued well past midnight.
The Avalanche deserve to celebrate. They are worthy champs.
Lightning fans should celebrate, too. After all, what a magnificent run this has been. Their team came within two victories of becoming the first to win three straight Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980 to 1983. As it was, no team had been to three straight final rounds since the Edmonton Oilers of 1983 to 1985.
Indeed, this has been a remarkable three-year run. What has been most remarkable is the backdrop against which this has been accomplished. They won the Cup amid a pandemic with no fans in the late summer and early autumn of 2020 and in the bubbles of Toronto in Edmonton.
Nine months later, and at the end of a virus-shortened season in a temporarily restructured league, the Lightning hoisted the Cup again. A Cup-clinching party at Amalie last July 7 will not soon be forgotten.
This time around, in the standard 82-game season and usual playoff format, the Lightning once again made it to the Stanley Cup final.
Sunday evening was the Lightning’s 71st playoff game – 71 – since proceedings got underway in the Toronto bubble in August 2020. Since January 2021, the start of last season, the Lightning played 184 regular season and playoff games. That’s 184 games in 17 months with only a brief layoff last summer.
“It’s so hard to get here, and nothing we say or do is going to make this feeling go away for a while, but I’m proud of the guys,” said Steven Stamkos, of the sting of losing to the Avs.
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We can go on and on about why this group should be hoisted upon shoulders and paraded through downtown. We can start with the sacrifice that was made. In the coming days and weeks, we will likely find out who played with a broken this and a sprained that. The infirmary report is sure to be a lengthy and eyebrow-raising read.
One could only cringe each time Erik Cernak blocked a shot the last couple of games. Indeed, there are warriors, and then there are warriors.
“We have a great group of guys that care so much for one another,” said Ryan McDonagh, following Game 6. “They sacrificed a lot, and it was incredible.”
It sure was.
Flanked by his staff on Sunday night, coach Jon Cooper spoke about just that.
“You remember the teams you win with,” he said. “You don’t remember as much the ones you don’t win with. But I will always remember this team for what they endured, what they went through to get to this point. You have to marvel at them. It’s a little shock and awe of what this group accomplished to get here.”
One thing is for sure, and that is this group answered the bell time and time again. When many thought they were down, they rose up. Nothing underscores that more than what was an incredible streak during this three-year run of 17 straight wins following a playoff loss.
“I am sure there were a lot of people doubting that we could even get back to this point,” said McDonagh. “It’s going to be the same thing next year. But for the group that will be back, and the coaching staff, we are going to leave it all out there again and go as far as we can.”
Who is going to doubt them?