- Emily Kaplan is ESPN’s national NHL reporter.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are back-to-back Stanley Cup champs — and they did it in a nine-month span.
Tampa Bay defeated the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday at home, becoming the first team to repeat as champion since the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy won the Conn Smythe Trophy and recorded his fifth straight shutout in a series-clinching game.
“It’s unbelievable,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “This group, to go back-to-back after everything we went through last year in the bubble, to go through this year — ups and downs — it’s amazing.”
With the win, the Lightning improved to 15-0 immediately following a loss over the past two postseasons, the longest such streak in NHL history. Defeating Montreal is the 15th series win for the Lightning since 2015. In that span, no other team has won more than nine series.
“It’s unbelievable, the injuries these guys are playing with, the heart these guys have, man,” Tampa Bay forward Blake Coleman said. “It takes a hell of a lot to get here once. It takes even more to get here twice. I can’t tell you how much these guys mean to me. Just a hell of an effort all around and a great team win.”
Tampa Bay dominated the first period of Game 5, holding a 13-8 edge in shots and 16-8 edge in controlled entries, but could not get a puck past Canadiens goalie Carey Price. However, rookie Ross Colton broke open the scoring 13:27 into the second period. Colton was set up on the goal by defenseman David Savard, the only other player on Tampa Bay’s roster who had not won a Stanley Cup.
The Lightning defeated the Dallas Stars in September 2020 to win in the bubble in Edmonton, Alberta. The franchise’s only other Stanley Cup win came in 2004.
Due to pandemic restrictions in Canada, the Lightning celebrated last year largely without family members allowed in attendance. Had Tampa Bay won in Game 4 on Monday — becoming the first team to sweep the Stanley Cup Final in 23 years — that would have been the case again. The Canadian government did not grant additional exemptions for family members to cross the border and skirt the federal 14-day quarantine, something the NHL had negotiated for teams for the past two rounds.
Instead — as Tampa Mayor Jane Castor jokingly suggested earlier this week — by losing Game 4 in Montreal the Lightning were able to clinch on home ice, celebrating in a packed arena and with loved ones.
“To do it in front of our fans and our families, it’s so special, special,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It’s out of this world. Winning a Stanley Cup is one thing. But doing it in front of our fans, family means the world.”
The Cup also marked a personal three-peat for fourth liner Pat Maroon, who won with his hometown St. Louis Blues in 2019. No NHL player had won three straight Cups since 1983, when 15 New York Islanders wrapped up their fourth in a row. No player had won three straight Cups with two different teams since 1964.
The Canadiens were heavy underdogs entering the Final, and had the worst points percentage (.527) of any team to qualify for the 16-team playoff field. Montreal did not hold a lead at any point against Tampa Bay until Josh Anderson scored in the first period of Game 4 — snapping a streak of 195:39 minutes.
“The resilience that we showed — just a good team to be a part of,” Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. “As painful as this is right now, sometimes you need to feel this to call yourself the champion.”
The Lightning were expected to make significant roster changes after last year’s Cup to stay salary-cap compliant. But star Nikita Kucherov underwent hip surgery on Dec. 29 and was sidelined for the entire regular season, which allowed general manager Julien BriseBois to keep his roster largely intact. Kucherov returned for Game 1 of the first round and was sensational throughout the entire playoffs, leading all scorers with 32 points — nine more than any other player.
The Lighting also put veteran Tyler Johnson — who led them in scoring in their 2015 Stanley Cup Final run — on waivers twice, and he went unclaimed each time. Johnson was one of Tampa Bay’s key depth players in the 2021 run, including scoring twice in Game 3.
The last 1-0 result in a Stanley Cup-clinching game was in 1996, when the Colorado Avalanche defeated the Florida Panthers in triple overtime of Game 4.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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