But unlike last season, when they defeated the Dallas Stars in the Final in the Edmonton bubble, they were able to celebrate in front of their fans at Amalie Arena.
The Lighting’s victory against the Canadiens capped a postseason like none other. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL realigned its divisions during the regular season, and the playoff format featured teams playing exclusively in those divisions for the first two rounds.
That resulted in Montreal becoming the first team from Canada to advance to the Final since the Vancouver Canucks in 2011, and Tampa Bay becoming the first team to repeat as champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016-17.
Although the image of Steven Stamkos being handed the Cup by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman in early July will be the lasting impression of the playoffs, there were several other memorable moments that took place over the previous seven-plus weeks.
With that in mind, we asked NHL.com staff writers and columnists who were there for the ride to share their favorite moments from an unforgettable postseason.
Canadiens fans raise their voices
I’ve always enjoyed listening to “O Canada” being sung before a playoff game, but rarely has a rendition been as emotional as it was on May 29 before Game 6 of the Stanley Cup First Round between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs at Bell Centre. The 2,500 fans in Montreal, the first fans to see a game in person in Canada since March 11, 2020, let out some of the emotion of the past year, belting out the national anthem with only a pianist to back them. The game wasn’t bad either, with the Canadiens winning their second straight overtime game, 3-2, to push the series to Game 7. Montreal would go on to complete the comeback against Toronto before advancing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1993. It was a night to remember, indeed. — Amalie Benjamin, staff writer
Each postseason has a few epic games, and the longest of 2021 was Game 4 of the Stanley Cup First Round between the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers on May 24 at Bell MTS Place. The game, played on Victoria Day, ended at 1:04 a.m. CDT when Kyle Connor scored at 6:52 of the third overtime to give the Jets a 4-3 victory, their third straight overtime win, and complete the sweep against the Oilers. It was a stubborn tug-of-war and featured all of the usual playoff qualities: skill, grit, and endurance, each of which made more impressive considering it was second game of a back-to-back. In addition to Connor’s goal, the lasting memories of that game will be of Oilers defenseman Darnell Nurse, who had 62:07 of ice time (about 58 percent of the game), and that more than two hours after the conclusion, Jets fans were still out in the streets near the arena celebrating. — Tim Campbell, staff writer
Carey Price denies Alex Tuch
The Montreal Canadiens displayed great defense throughout the playoffs, but whenever a mistake was made, Carey Price was there. Price came up with several highlight-reel saves, but perhaps none was bigger than against Vegas Golden Knights forward Alex Tuch at 4:07 of the third period in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on June 18. With Vegas leading 2-1, Tuch raced through the neutral zone before passing to forward Max Pacioretty on a 2-on-1. Pacioretty then sent a saucer pass over a sprawling Shea Weber to Tuch on the doorstep, but Price was able to push off and extend his left pad to deny Tuch at the right post. Price would finish with 43 saves for the Canadiens, who rallied for a 3-2 overtime win before going on to eliminate the Golden Knights in six games. — Tracey Myers, staff writer
Pulock saves day
The New York Islanders were clinging to a one-goal lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final seconds of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Semifinals on June 20 when defenseman Ryan Pulock came to the rescue to preserve a 3-2 victory that tied the best-of-7 series. The play started with Lightning forward Ondrej Palat intercepting Pulock’s clearing attempt along the boards and passing to Nikita Kucherov, who redirected the puck to Ryan McDonagh in the left circle. With less than four seconds remaining, Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov came out to challenge McDonagh, who spun away from diving Brock Nelson and appeared to have an net open after his backhand got past the extended left pad of Varlamov. But Pulock, who was watching the play develop just outside the crease, slid in behind Varlamov and stopped the puck with his right glove with 2.5 seconds remaining before guiding it into the left corner to run out the clock. Although the Lightning went on to win the series in seven games, Pulock’s play will long be remembered in Islanders’ lore. — Tom Gulitti, staff writer
Coleman beats buzzer
Tampa Bay Lightning forwards Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman pulled off the unthinkable at the end of the second period in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 30. Montreal Canadiens forward Phillip Danault lost the puck along the boards in the neutral zone, and Goodrow got to the loose puck and chipped it past Ben Chiarot to create a 2-on-1 with Coleman. After faking a shot with a slight leg kick, Goodrow slid a backhand pass just ahead of Coleman so that the only way he could get to it was by diving, while keeping both hands on his stick, and swatting it into the net. Danault was also diving behind him, inches from breaking up the play, but the puck went in with 1.1 seconds remaining, giving the Lightning a 2-1 lead and all the momentum. Montreal didn’t score again and Tampa Bay took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. What if Danault moved the puck out of harm’s way? What if Chiarot knocked it down? What if Goodrow’s pass wasn’t perfect? What if Coleman’s dive wasn’t perfectly timed? That goal changed Game 2 and the series, putting the Lightning in the driver’s seat toward their second straight title. — Dan Rosen, senior writer
Goodrow gives all
It takes goals and saves to win the Stanley Cup, and the Tampa Bay Lightning had lots of each from its stars, including goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the Conn Smythe Trophy voted as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But it also takes the little things to win, and none spoke louder than Barclay Goodrow laying out to block a heavy slap shot from Shea Weber with Tampa Bay holding a 1-0 lead against the Montreal Canadiens with 7:22 remaining in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on July 7. Goodrow couldn’t stand on the leg that took the brunt of the shot and needed to be pushed by teammates to get to the bench. Amazingly, Goodrow was back out for a shift in the final minute and blocked another shot from Jeff Petry with 27 seconds left, the last Montreal would attempt before time ran out. After it was all over, Lightning coach John Cooper said Goodrow’s first block would be one of his best memories from their run to a second straight championship. It is one of mine as well. — Shawn P. Roarke, Senior Director of Editorial
Stanley Cup celebration
The best part of the Stanley Cup celebration wasn’t NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman calling up the Tampa Bay Lightning as a team, captain Steven Stamkos accepting the Stanley Cup for the second time in less than 10 months, or forward Alex Killorn raising it despite a broken leg. It wasn’t even forward Nikita Kucherov doing a postgame interview via Zoom shirtless, enjoying a beverage, completely unplugged. It was the 18,110 fans who got to see it. When the Lightning won the Cup in 2020, they celebrated in an empty arena in Edmonton because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now here they were in their home building, a full building, celebrating with their fans, family and friends. “This had, finally, a sense of normalcy, and it felt good,” Commissioner Bettman said. — Nicholas J. Cotsonika, columnist