(Reuters) – The Tampa Bay Lightning overcame the Dallas Stars — and their own demons — to hoist the Stanley Cup on Monday, putting to rest last year’s painful, early exit from the National Hockey League’s (NHL) playoffs.
After winning a record-equaling 62 games last season, the team many had labeled among the greatest the sport had ever seen appeared all but assured the NHL’s top prize.
However, they were beaten 4-0 in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets and became the first winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season, swept in a best-of-seven opening-round playoff series.
“It’s easy to say now but it is true, sometimes in failure you find success. It doesn’t come easy,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said in a TV interview.
“People say, ‘You never know when you’re going back, you never know when you’re going to go back.’
“But I truly believe it was the heartbreak we suffered that brought us here today.”
Tampa Bay came up against the Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs again this year but there would be no repeat of last season’s shock, the Lightning winning 4-1.
“We just worked so hard and played our system well, we weren’t thinking about anything except the game ahead of us,” said Tampa Bay center Brayden Point, who scored the overtime winner to eliminate Columbus.
The Lightning sent 2019 runner-up Boston Bruins packing 4-1 in the second round and outlasted the New York Islanders 4-2 in the conference finals.
After toppling Dallas 4-2 in the best-of-seven championship series, elated Tampa Bay players could only marvel at the victory inside an empty Edmonton arena.
“To be a part of this whole run, it was so special this year to do it in the style that we did,” said captain Steven Stamkos.
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, additional reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Peter Rutherford)