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Mayor Gets Her Way -- So Do Lightning
Tampa wins the Stanley Cup. How did they do it? Stick tap to the Habs and Islanders... And kudos to Gary Bettman and Bill Daly orchestrating another wonderful postseason.
Tampa Bay Mayor Jane Castor wanted the Lightning to lose Game Four so that her town's team could have their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship in Florida, not Montreal.
Coach Jon Cooper knew better than to fight City Hall.
Back home again last night at Amalie Arena, the Lightning did what just about everybody -- not counting the Canadiens -- had expected them to do -- win.
They obliged with a 1-0 Cup-clinching win and now -- with their second straight Stanley Cup -- are rolling along the highway to hockey history.
Judging by last night's victory -- and their star-studded roster -- a third consecutive championship is more likely than out of the question.
The victory over a game Canadiens team merely symbolizes why the Bolts are so strong and underlines the point that a new Tampa Bay dynasty already is under construction. Consider these factors:
1. UNKNOWN FORWARD SCORES THE CUP-WINNER: Ross Colton was so far down the Lightning roster that he wasn't even listed on their opening season depth chart. That, my friends, is what you call depth!
2. WORLD'S BEST GOALIE REAFFIRMS HIS GREATNESS: Andrei Vasilevskly deservedly won the playoff MVP Conn Smythe Trophy but did so with a 1-0 blank job. He did the same in the Bolts seventh game winner against the Islanders in the previous series. It's hard not to win The Stanley when you have the top stopper in the universe.
3. THE PERFECT LINEUP: I defy anyone to find a weak link in the Cup-clinching lineup. The bottom guy -- fourth-stringer Patrick Maroon -- has just played for his third-straight Cup champ. That's one for St.Louis and two for Tampa. That's some roster.
4. IDEAL LEADERSHIP: You've be hard-pressed to find a more ideal team captain than Steven Stamkos. I love his post-game summation:
"This win is validation of our Cup from last season." Then he contradicted himself by adding: "There are no words to describe the feeling." Then a pause: "Unbelievable. Amazing!"
5. STRONG OWNERSHIP AND GENERAL STAFF: Jeff Vinik's hands-off style allows his pros to run the team. General manager Julien BriseBois has made no mistakes. Jon Cooper is the perfect coach for the perfect team. And the Howard Dolgon-owned Syracuse AHL farm team continually re-stocks the Champs with aces. Exhibit A is Ross Colton, who tallied the Cup-winner.
6. PERFORMANCE PERFECTION: Colton's goal -- via late-season acquisition, D-man David Savard -- at 13:27 of the second period was a drawing board beauty. It was reminiscent of Yanni Gourde's 1-0 series-clinching-shorthanded winner against the Islanders. Call them both a product of hard-work and perfection in execution.
7. A LOAD OF HEROES: Although they didn't score, the likes of Victor Hedman, Braden Point, Ryan McDonagh, Nikita Kucherov, Blake Coleman, et. al. left their marks from the opening round to the present.
One more championship next year, would give them bragging rights as only the second American-based team in history to win three straight Stanleys. (The Islanders won four in a row, 1980-83).
The only blemish -- if you can call it that -- on the season was Monday night's overtime loss in Montreal. It pleased Mayor Castor but not coach Cooper.
"When a team plays a game in the Final," Coop insisted, "it plays to win that game, wherever it may be."
So be it.
A bulging, boisterous Amalie Arena crowd welcomed the defending Champs at the start of festivities and wildly cheered the re-affirmed Cup-winners at the end.
Not even the miracle-laden Montrealers could do anything about it; except play to their extremes; but neither that nor the oft-drafted Lady Luck could make a difference.
Luck-Be-A-Lady fulfilled her contract after Game Four and exited for a vacation before the Entry Draft.
Meanwhile, the Bolts fulfilled their end of the bargain by living up to their glorious notices thanks to a roster that's so overflowing with la creme de la creme that it borders on shameful.
What's more, it's a team that has grown.
"We added grit," said owner Jeff Vinik, "and that made a difference."
With toughies such as Patrick Maroon, the Lightning has been able to slug toe to toe with challengers such as the Hurricanes, Islanders and Canadiens.
And speaking of the Habs, they're still fuming over the deal that sent defenseman Mikhail Sergachev to Tampa Bay for erratic and undependable Jonathan Drouin.
By adding the rugged Russian to a defense that already was loaded with Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak, each one of them is capable of playing in all situations and log 20-plus minutes.
If there has been anything "lucky" about Cooper's galaxy of stars, it has been between the pipes.
While I'm happy to acknowledge that Andre Vasilevskly is the best goaltender between here and Sakhalin Island, his backup, Curtis McElhinney is so far over the hill, you can see China from his shoulder.
Fortunately, McElhinney never had to be pressed into playoff service; else the Lightning would have suffered 60 minutes of shock.
Having escaped that fate, the Bolts were home free.
That pleased just about everybody in the Florida community, but especially that darling of the ice lanes -- once a year -- Mayor Jane Castor!
HEADLINE: HONOR THE GALLANT LOSERS
THE JIVE: The Habs made the finale as close as possible and deserve a standing ovation for their remarkable crusade through three amazing rounds; not to mention the valiant effort in Game Five.
In retrospect, Montreal's downfall in the series was Carey Price's weak effort in Game Three. When a club is three games down to the defending champions, it's essentially toast in any series.
HEADLINE: HONOR THE ISLANDERS
THE JIVE: If any of the four challenging teams gave a full battle to Tampa Bay, it was the Barry Trotz-coached Islanders. They took the Lightning to a full seven games and even then only lost the clincher by a single, shorthanded goal. Kudos to the Nassaumen.
HEADLINE: HERE'S TO THE COMMISSIONER
THE JIVE: Under the most trying possible conditions Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly orchestrated a full season and complete playoff run concluding with the 1-0 thriller. The challenges -- from opening night to the closer -- were endless, frustrating and, at times, seemingly without solution. But the NHL high command met them all, conquered them and gave fans a marvelously exciting 2020-21 campaign.