The Tampa Bay Lightning are the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup champion.
LIFT. THAT. CUP!!!! 🏆 pic.twitter.com/35PnR8gfLf
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) September 29, 2020
The second captain Steven Stamkos hoisted Lord Stanley’s chalice, pundits and a constituency of fans started arguing that the 24-team field was watered down and that the notorious asterisk should be attached to the Lightning’s Stanley Cup championship.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the NHL brain trust to come up with an innovative solution to finish the season. Many do not realize the league has experience with this type of situation. The challenges have varied, but NHL history has looked sympathetically on Stanley Cups won under unique situations.
The flu epidemic of 1918 led to the cancellation of the 1919 Stanley Cup Final. The NHL placed the names of both teams, the Seattle Metropolitans and Montreal Canadiens, on the Stanley Cup as a tribute to both organizations.
The 1967-68 season guaranteed an expansion team would be easy fare for an Original Six steamroller in the Stanley Cup Final.
In the years 1998 to 2013, the Southeast Division was the pariah of the three-division setup forcing the quick meeting with the best Eastern Divison teams in the playoffs.
The 1995 New Jersey Devils and the 2013 Chicago Blackhawks earned their Cup championships after a lockout-shortened, 48-game regular season without a thought of an asterisk in the record book.
“Forty-eight games didn’t diminish it for me. My name is still on the Stanley Cup,” said former Devils defenseman Shawn Chambers in 2015, “They can say whatever they want to say. I’ve never thought about it once. Someone said something once, and I said, ‘That’s the season they gave me.’ Nothing was different about playing 48 games. Every point mattered.”
This season the Montreal Canadiens were 24th ranked at the hiatus and 10 points away from a playoff spot, and the Chicago Blackhawks (72 points) and Arizona Coyotes (74 points) were headed to the postseason. All three teams then won their qualifying-round series.
The pause in play was nearly five-months and created unrivaled consequences to the 2020 season.
Players across the NHL were able to heal injuries, allowing nearly every team to be at full strength entering the postseason. That is never the case.
The Lightning had to make it through an extra playoff round starting with the round-robin. The St. Louis Blues tied an NHL record by playing 26 games en route to winning the Stanley Cup last season, and Tampa Bay played 25 this season.
Players were separated from their families for over two months while risking their health during a pandemic played at a neutral site with no fans allowed inside the stadiums. The last team to win the Cup championship without playing a home game was the 1923 0ttawa Senators.
People are going to remember who won the 2020 Stanley Cup, and it will be considered the toughest Stanley Cup to win because the players faced health consequences and the lack of home games, no fans, and the round-robin extra playoff round and the Bolts overcame the loss of their captain.
Being different is the price of playing in a world combatting a pandemic. But that’s no reason to look at this Stanley Cup champion as any less worthy.
The Tampa Bay Lightning definitely earned it.