Chills. Every season when Gary Bettman (who I admittingly don’t really hate anymore, yeah he could do a better job of marketing the best league in all of sports, but hey, it could be worse, he could be Roger Goodell (and I don’t care that I wrote this giant run on sentence in parenthesis)) comes on the ice and presents the most beautiful, coveted, storied trophy in all of sports to the winner of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I get chills. To see how much these guys put their hearts and bodies into the most grueling playoffs in sports to get those 16 wins to raise that Cup, just gives you chills. Almost brings you to tears seeing these guys get to live out a dream they had since they could skate, to lift Lord Stanley.
This year was something special. After the NHL season and the whole world got shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic (I won’t get into that shit on this blog), there was a lot of uncertainty to how the season was going to end or even if it was gonna end. But the NHL was able to put together this bubble in Edmonton in Toronto and was able to make it all the way through the Stanley Cup Finals to award the Cup with zero positive tests. Pretty impressive. And the bubble was fantastic. With games all spread out through the days from the early added series of play in games that gave us both 12 seeds bouncing the 5 seeds, we got hockey from noon to midnight for a while, a degenerate gambler’s dream. And even though the whole no fans thing was going on and you missed the cheers and reactions of how rabid hockey fans react, it still felt relatively normal. All of these teams skated as hard as they would if there were 20k drunks screaming their heads off in those arena. It was entirely legit hockey. No asterisks to this one. And the eventual Stanley Cup champion would have to win 16 games as they do every year (19 if it would have been one of the teams that played in the play-in round).
A few months ago, these players all left their friends and families and isolated themselves from the rest of the world in these NHL bubbles. No chance that was gonna be fun no matter how you look at it. But to win a Stanley Cup, it was worth it for all these guys. I can’t imagine how hard that was to do and with those factors, it made this the hardest Cup to ever win.
Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning had statistically the best regular season a NHL team has ever had. Then in Game 1 of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets, this historic team blew a 3-0 lead after the first period to lose Game 1 4-3 and then get swept for the rest of the series. Choke artists in epic fashion (oh, and I was shockingly one of the few that bet on Columbus to win that series, not a big deal).
This year Tampa had a slow start to the season and turned it around, finishing the season as one of the hottest teams in hockey before the regular season got cancelled. With the talent on their roster, they were again one of the top favorites to win the Cup.
The Lightning came into the bubble with something to prove this year. In the first round as the 2 seed, they got matched up with none other than the Columbus Blue Jackets team that swept them last year. But this years results were much different and the Lightning bounced the Jackets in five games. In round two, the Bolts beat out their division rival Bruins in five games as well, a round I was pretty happy with since I hate the B’s to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals vs. the NY Islanders. The Eastern Conference Finals was a fun series against a very good Isles team that played boring but great defensive hockey but they couldn’t match up with the Lightning who won in six to go to their third Stanley Cup finals appearance.
Typically every year I make a decent amount of money gambling on the NHL playoffs, this year wasn’t quite the case. Between the uncertainty going into the bubble, no fans and home ice advantage, it was a bit more difficult for me. My only three futures I placed prior to the playoffs were on the Islanders, Flyers and Dallas Stars to win the Cup. And those didn’t turn out bad with Dallas giving me a good hedge on the finals to switch entirely to a pretty big “free” bet on Tampa. But I wasn’t great on a game by game basis this year which sucked. I’ll probably change my approach at betting hockey a bit next season.
The Cup Finals were fantastic. Game 1, Dallas came out flying and won 4-1 to start the series, which I didn’t expect at all. But in the 3rd period of game 1, Tampa dominated play and despite losing the period 1-0, held the puck in Dallas’s end pouring on the shots. But Anton Khudobin stayed as hot as he was coming into the finals with 35 saves. I said if Tampa came out Game 2 the way they played the 3rd period of Game 1, the Bolts would be in good shape to win. And they did. Tampa came out firing taking a 3-0 lead in the 1st period and holding that lead to even the series with a 3-2 win. In Game 3, Tampa was rocking the whole night in a high scoring 5-2 victory to take a 2-1 series lead with the extra jolt into the Tampa lineup with their captain, Steven Stamkos getting the puck in the back of the net in his only around 3 minutes of ice time of the playoffs. The best game of the series was game 4, where both teams went back and forth with the game tied 4-4 going into overtime, with Tampa winning 6:34 into overtime to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. Game 5 was pretty stressful for me, having a lot of money riding on Tampa to close the game out in five but that didn’t happen even though it should have. Once again, these two teams needed more than regulation to crown a winner of game 5 and it took two overtimes for Dallas to end it on a lousy goal from scumbag Corey Perry ($2000 swing there for me, not fun) to turn it into a series going to game 6, even though Tampa was the dominant team in both overtime periods.
The bubble burst on Monday in Game 6 and Tampa was all in on winning the Cup. On two beautiful goals from Brayden Point and Blake Coleman and a shutout for last year’s Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished their goal of winning the Stanley Cup and raising that beautiful cup it in an empty Rogers Place in Edmonton. Victor Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy on a 10 goal, 11 assist playoffs leading his team in ice time. One of the best playoff performances a defenseman has ever had.
Congrats to the Tampa Bay Lightning, hell of a Stanley Cup win! This team deserved it in every way possible. This bubble hockey was fantastic to watch and great job to the NHL on successfully putting on this tournament. It was a pleasure to watch.
One other note: I’m happy for them, they deserve it and deserved to get out of Buffalo but it blows that we just saw Ryan O’Reilly and Zach Bogosian be factors for their new teams winning Stanley Cups the last two years after being pretty much useless on the Sabres. Just goes to show even more how FUCKED of an organization the Sabres are right now and how far off we are from even a sniff at a Cup. It blows to be a Sabres fan.
PS: I’ve sucked at blogging lately. But I do love it, so stay tuned and keep following my work. It felt awesome writing this one and the words just flew from my brain to the keyboard so effortlessly. I know I’ve said it in the past but I want to write on here a lot more. I might even do daily NHL breakdowns next season, kind of like I do with the PGA, we’ll see.
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