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How the Tampa Bay Lightning won Game 6 and became Stanley Cup Champions

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Recapping the final game of this crazy 2020 season.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
Sep 28, 2020; Edmonton, Alberta, CAN; Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) and center Anthony Cirelli (71) celebrates winning the Stanley Cup in game six of the 2020 Stanley Cup Final after defeating the Dallas Stars at Rogers Place.
Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

The Tampa Bay Lightning are Stanley Cup Champions once again. It doesn’t get old hearing that phrase.

Bolts captain Steven Stamkos (Mr. One Game, One Shot, One Goal) lifted the big silver trophy, while partner in crime Victor Hedman (10g, 12a) took home the Conn Smythe award for Playoff MVP. Brayden Point finished as the NHL’s goal scoring leader with 14 goals in 23 games, while Nikita Kucherov finished with the NHL lead in points with 34 points in 24 games. Andrei Vasilevskiy won 18 of 25 games in the bubble, with a .927 save percentage that included a 22-save shutout in Game 6.

The leaders of this team showed up, they performed, and they’re bringing home a Stanley Cup.

The plan, the system, the build, the philosophy, it all worked out. The Lightning in 2020 are undisputed Champions.

And it feels really, really, damn good.

The Goals

1-0 The Stanley Cup Winning Goal

Most hope and dream that they score the Stanley Cup winning goal in overtime of a Game 7 or in the dying seconds of a third period comeback after being on the brink of elimination. But that’s not these Lightning. They don’t need a 6-5 win. They can win a Stanley Cup on the first goal in the first period, on the team’s second power play of the game, in a Game 6.

The first Lightning power play was fairly disappointing. Many commentators took it as an opportunity for Dallas to have life, but Tampa Bay pushed on. Pushing through by dominating play at 5v5 and earning another power play that Brayden Point converted with a brave drive to the middle and a quick strike on the rebound.

Nikita Kucherov and Hedman got the assists. Admittedly, Anton Khudobin was not great on the goal. He wasn’t square to Point and drifted out of his net while also giving up the rebound. He wasn’t in any position to nab the rebound, just like the Stars defenders who saw Point streak by them. Alex Volkov, in his first NHL playoff game and 10th NHL game period drew the penalty that earned Tampa Bay the power play, a job well done.

2-0 The Insurance Marker

Volkov then got off the ice in time for Blake Coleman to score the second goal of the game for the Lightning in the second period. Vokov came off the ice first as the third line was coming on for the fourth line. While the change was happening, Pat Maroon intercepted a through pass from Alex Radulov, who was playing defense for some reason.

Radulov was a big reason for ths goal being scored because not only did he try a stretch pass for John Klingberg (who jumped the zone when he noticed the line change), giving the puck away, but he also backed up into the defensive zone and looked on lifelessly while Maroon fed Coleman for a one timer uninterrupted. Esa Lindell tried to cover multiple players at once and as a result couldn’t get to Coleman in time, and he beat Khudobin with a hard shot.

And that was all the insurance Tampa Bay needed. One period later, and the game, series, and playoffs were wrapped up in a bow.

The Most Complete Game

Hedman said it best in the postgame, “probably in my 11 years that was the most complete game we’ve ever played,” [Bryan Burns, NHL dot com].

The Lightning are a possession team that focuses on preventing their opponent from gaining territory in their zone with diligent defensive play in the neutral zone but starting in the offensive zone. They hate not having the puck, and whenever they don’t, it’s all about using sticks and body positioning to limit passes and create turnovers. Not waiting for the dump and chase, or stopping crossings of the blueline only, systematically fighting backwards until the opponent is exhausted and makes a mistake.

In the first two periods of this game, the Lightning did exactly that from all four of their forward lines and all three defense pairs. It’s what their lineup was built to do. Hounding backchecking forwards and defensemen with good positioning, support, and active sticks. It almost doesn’t seem hard to do, it just takes the effort, commitment, and muscle memory.

After two periods at 5v5, the Lightning owned 69% of the shot attempts (nice, 36-16), 78% of the shots (18-5!), and 65% of the scoring chances (11-6). The Stars had eight shots through two periods in all situations, single digits! While I will say that the Stars are not a terribly offensively gifted team, the Lightning took the front of the net away from them and their ability to cycle by not letting them have a calm puck on their stick. The Stars were constantly having to look down to find the puck in their feet, wasting time to make plays.

Early on in this Lightning era, they were really run and gun, hoping to score on their chances and not really doing much beyond standing in a system to prevent shots against. But over the years, as the team has gotten better and gone through spring heartbreak, they’ve gotten harder on pucks and more diligent on defense. The Columbus Blue Jackets taught them to take nothing for granted, any shot against can go in. So they went ahead and stopped allowing shots (and especially dangerous ones) altogether.

Yes, Hedman is correct that this was their most complete game in 11 years, I will add to that with the fact that it was 11 years of learning that created their most complete game. I’m sure Hedman would agree.

The Third Period

The Stars put on some offense in their last period of the season, but their first shot didn’t come until nearly six minutes into the period, thanks to incredible offensive pressure by the first shots of every forward line on the Lightning. They played the first six minutes in the offensive zone, cutting off Dallas’ momentum from the intermission, and killed time while the Stars regrouped. A third goal during that time wasn’t necessary, but it would’ve been a major dagger.

From there, the middle of the period saw the most pressure from the Stars. The Lightning had to flip pucks out every minute they got a second of possession, taking icings, partial line changes, and deflected shots into the netting to get to the next shift. This was where they could’ve given up a goal, but they didn’t and it was Vasy’s most important phase of the game.

Into the final five minutes, the Stars had a power play, but didn’t pull the goalie. The Lightning had two shorthanded chances, so I guess it was good for them not to pull the goalie. But as time ticked, it became less and less likely that the Stars were going to score. The Lightning were putting everything in the way of the net. Sticks, skates, bodies, Big Cats.

It worked, though. In the third, the Stars had 30 shot attempts, but only eight hit the net. That was credit to all the skaters blocking shots, especially the Cirelli line that was diving and bracing for any chunk of the puck to go off them and into free air away from the net.

The clock kept ticking down. Four minutes, Two and a half. One minute. They still weren’t scoring, they were still down two. 30 seconds. The puck was free, Barclay Goodrow was on the other side of the ice.

“The Lightning win the Stanley Cup.”