The Lightning clinched the best-of-seven series 4–1 in front of a packed arena to end a magical run by Montreal, who were Canada’s latest hope of ending the ice hockey-mad country’s longest Stanley Cup drought.
No Canada-based team has won the Cup since Montreal in 1993.
Unlike last year, when Tampa Bay won the Cup without fans present inside the NHL’s biosecure bubble in Edmonton, they did not squander a chance to close out the series in front of their boisterous supporters.
“To do this in front of our fans and our family, we didn’t get a chance to do that last year,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “That was huge motivation for this group.
“It doesn’t take anything away from last year, but to do it again is just validation into history. This group accomplished something that not many people though could happen.”
Tampa Bay scored the game’s only goal with under seven minutes left in the second period when David Savard found rookie Ross Colton at the top of the crease with a tape-to-tape pass that slid under the stick of Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot.
From there, Andrei Vasilevskiy stood tall in the Tampa Bay net and finished the game with 22 saves, including a handful during a frantic closing minute, for his fifth shutout of the 2021 postseason and fourth in a series-clinching game.
Vasilevskiy, who was mobbed in front of his net by team mates when the final buzzer sounded, was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
“Full arena, incredible energy and another championship in Tampa,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said to the crowd of over 17,000 before presenting the Stanley Cup to Stamkos. “It feels like things are normal.”
The result ended an unexpected playoff run by an upstart Montreal team that defied the odds all season despite injuries, a COVID-19 outbreak and a lackluster regular season that left them a 50-to-1 longshot when the playoffs began in mid-May.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Twitter: “You’ve kept us on the edge of our seats during these playoffs—and we can’t wait to see you here again next year.”
Montreal, who relied on a hot goalie in Carey Price across three playoff rounds to reach the Stanley Cup final, had staved off elimination four times in the postseason but they lacked the offensive punch to keep their Cinderella run alive.
The Canadiens pulled Price, who stopped 29 shots, from the net in the final moments so they could put an extra attacker on the ice but the Lightning stood firm.
“Obviously this group has a lot of character and went up against a lot of adversity this year and we proved a lot of people wrong,” said Montreal captain Shea Weber.
“And in a tough year to boot where things weren’t normal, and guys stuck together and battled hard and obviously I wouldn’t change it for anything and I am super proud of these guys.”
Things looked bleak for Montreal after they fell behind 3–0 in the series. Of the 27 previous teams to fall behind 3–0 in the Stanley Cup Final series only the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs fought back to win.
But Montreal, who boast a mix of youth and experience and players who appear committed to each other, never counted themselves out.
“Every single guy gave everything they had every single night,” said Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher.
“You look at our group and, obviously, there’s a lot more talented teams and there’s a lot of teams that do a lot of things, but there’s no team that’s stronger as a group and the resiliency that we showed. Just a good team to be a part of.”
By Frank Pingue