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The Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup. Now what?
Sixty-five days after entering the bubble, 201 days after the NHL shut down, nearly a full year after the season started and almost a year and a half after suffering one of the most humiliating defeats in playoff history, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally finished the job. With last night’s 2-0 win over Dallas in Game 6 of the final, they became the Stanley Cup champions of the most bizarre NHL season ever.
Tampa had one of the best regular seasons of all time in 2018-19, winning a record-tying 62 games. But it won zero in the playoffs, getting swept by Columbus in one of the most shocking playoff defeats ever. The Lightning took it easier this season but still cruised to the league’s second-best record before the pandemic hit and the NHL closed shop for five months. Tampa kept its edge and exacted revenge on Columbus by beating them in five games in the first round. Then came an impressive five-game takedown of heavyweight Boston before six-game victories over the plucky Islanders and Stars. And they did it without injured captain Steven Stamkos, who played a grand total of less than three minutes in the playoffs — but did score a goal in Game 3 of the final and got to be the first to hoist the Cup last night.
It’s a great redemption story. And similar to Washington’s from 2018. Like Tampa, the Capitals had by far the NHL’s best regular-season record and were everyone’s pick to win the Cup before flaming out early in the playoffs, then bounced back the following year to become champions. Boston comes closest to fitting that bill for next year. The Bruins ran away with the NHL’s best regular-season record before becoming the fifth consecutive Presidents’ Trophy winner to lose in the second round of the playoffs or earlier.
A few other takeaways from Tampa being crowned champion of this very weird season:
The Lightning had so many good Conn Smythe choices. Victor Hedman won the playoff MVP award after scoring 10 goals — the third-most ever by a defenceman in the playoffs. But it just as easily could have gone to Brayden Point, who scored the opening goal last night for his league-leading 14th of the playoffs. Or Nikita Kucherov, who won the playoff scoring race and had more assists than anyone except Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux have ever recorded in a single post-season. You could even have built a case for Andrei Vasilevskiy, who made some big saves again last night and finished with a sparkling 1.90 goals-against average for the playoffs. He was the only goalie Tampa used after the restart, setting a new record for minutes played in a post-season.
The NHL pulled it off. Be honest: back in the spring, did you believe the Cup would be awarded this year? And even if you did, could you imagine it would go this smoothly? Zero players or other team personnel tested positive for COVID-19 in what the NHL said were more than 33,000 tests conducted since teams arrived in the Edmonton and Toronto bubbles on July 26. The quality of play was top-notch too. That’s not to say there weren’t some tough moments. Even the joyous Lightning were palpably relieved to be getting out of Dodge last night. And two days’ worth of games were postponed back in late August as part of the sports-wide walkouts in protest of racial injustice and police brutality started by the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks. The NHL’s delayed reaction to that extraordinary moment drew criticism. But, from a playing-in-a-pandemic standpoint, this was a remarkable achievement by the NHL and its players.
So what’s next? After rushing to complete the playoffs, the NHL is cramming its big off-season events in before the Thanksgiving/Columbus Day weekend. The draft is next Tuesday and Wednesday, and the free-agent signing period opens Friday, Oct. 9 at noon ET. The NHL and the players’ union will meet soon to discuss scenarios for the 2020-21 season. The players have no desire to bubble up for the whole thing, but the NHL could follow the lead of baseball and the NFL and have teams play out of their home arenas with enhanced health protocols. That’ll be trickier for the NHL, though, because it has seven Canadian-based teams. The earliest possible start date for the new season is Dec. 1, but it’s more likely to be later than that, which could mean a shortened regular season. Read more about the possibilities for next season here.
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo recaps the Lightning’s Stanley Cup win:
The NFL has its first outbreak out of the season. Eight members of the Tennessee Titans have tested positive for COVID-19 — including three players. The Titans played the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. Both teams cancelled their in-person activities for today, though no one from the Vikings tested positive. Tennessee and Minnesota both play next on Sunday afternoon — the Titans host Pittsburgh while the Vikings visit Houston. As of now, those games are still a go. Read more about the Titans’ positive tests and the potential fallout here.
The Blue Jays open their playoff series vs. Tampa Bay today. First pitch is at 5 p.m. ET. Toronto is sending so-so starter Matt Shoemaker to the mound, even though ace Hyun-Jin Ryu has had the regular four days of rest. Ryu felt “a little sore” after his last regular-season start, according to manager Charlie Montoyo, so the team wanted to buy him more time. It’s a best-of-three series with games on back-to-back-to-back days, so Ryu would only be able to make one start anyway. But saving him for Game 2 probably removes the possibility of using him in relief in a potential Game 3. Shoemaker’s start is likely to be a short one, so the Jays may have to lean on their questionable bullpen early and often. An x-factor there is top pitching prospect Nate Pearson, who just returned from an arm injury and will work out of the pen. Read more about the Jays’ key players and their outlook for the playoffs in this piece by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter. If you missed yesterday’s newsletter, brush up on how baseball`s new playoff format works here.
Canadian women have flipped the script at the French Open. Heading into the final Grand Slam of the year, Canada looked a lot stronger on the men’s side, where it had four players (two of them seeded) compared to just two in the women’s event (neither ranked higher than 100th in the world). But Canada is already down to its final men’s player after 19th-seeded Felix Auger-Aliassime and qualifier Steven Diez lost their first-round matches yesterday, and unseeded Vasek Pospisil got smoked in straight sets today by No. 7 Matteo Berrettini. That leaves only ninth-seeded Denis Shapovalov, who advanced to the second round today by beating Frenchman Gilles Simon in four sets. But both Canadian women are still alive. Yesterday, 100th-ranked Leylah Annie Fernandez upset the No. 31 seed in her first-ever appearance in the main draw of the French Open. She and 168th-ranked Genie Bouchard both play their second-round matches tomorrow.
Doc Rivers took the fall for the Clippers’ collapse. He’s one of the most respected coaches in basketball, and he guided L.A. to the fourth-best record in the NBA this season. But the Clippers brought in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George (and mortgaged their future to do so) to win championships, and the supposed title contenders got upset in the second round by Denver. Worse, they choked away the final three games of the series and seemed to just straight-up quit in the second half of Game 7. Tough to blame Doc for that. But this is pro sports, so nine times out of 10 the axe falls on the coach. The team said Rivers and owner Steve Ballmer arrived at the decision jointly. Believe that if you choose. Read more about what went wrong for Doc and the Clippers here.
Patrick Mahomes is still the king. By his lofty standards, the Super Bowl MVP had a so-so start to the season, averaging only 256 yards passing in wins over the mediocre Texans and Chargers (and barely escaping an upset in the latter). But Mahomes and Kansas City showed last night that they’re still the ones to beat. They steamrolled the NFL’s consensus other-best team, the Baltimore Ravens, 34-20 on Monday Night Football. Mahomes threw for four TDs, ran in another and executed coach Andy Reid’s brilliant play designs to perfection. Mahomes also outplayed reigning regular-season MVP Lamar Jackson, who threw for only 97 yards. Jackson ran for 83 but was also sacked four times. Meanwhile, Baltimore’s vaunted defence failed to sack Mahomes at all despite blitzing him all night (might want to rethink that strategy). Read more about K.C.’s convincing win in the marquee matchup here.
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