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Call it the COVID-19 cut if you like. But know this: What Tampa Bay – and Dallas, for that matter – went through over the past eight weeks was anything but easy.
We’ve always been told that the Stanley Cup is the toughest trophy of all sports to win. Now, no one would dispute that now.
If there is an asterisk attached to this championship, it should mean how difficult this championship has been to win.
It was a grueling postseason. It all started in the first week of August, with 24 teams competing in a five-round tournament. It was quite impressive. But by far the hardest part was what the players had to endure off the ice.
Living in bubbles, jokingly called prisons, was not easy. There were daily nasal swabs and temperature checks. With a few exceptions, there was no physical contact with family or friends – or with the outside world. The players were either at the rink or at their hotel. Imagine going through this routine for eight long weeks.
It was a sacrifice as much as a test of endurance. And, to see the smile in ears on Steven Stamkos’ bearded face, you know it was worth it.
It was a long time for the Tampa Bay captain.
The Stanley Cup can cement a legacy. But, as Alex Ovechkin knows after silencing his critics in 2018, he can rewrite a narrative as well.
The Lightning lost to Chicago in the 2105 final. Two years ago, they lost a 3-2 lead in the conference final to Washington, which went on to win the Cup. And then there was the embarrassment of last year, where Tampa Bay went from winning the Presidents’ Trophy and setting a record for most wins of the season to being swept away in the first round.