Sport The Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning are both deserving champs thanks to 2020’s circus
Free-agent focus: Tampa Bay Lightning
GM Julien BriseBois will have his work cut out for him when Tampa Bay's series against Dallas comes to an end. Subscribe to Yardbarker's Morning Bark, the most comprehensive newsletter in sports. Customize your email to get the latest news on your favorite sports, teams and schools. Emailed daily.
The NHL will soon anoint its 2020 Stanley Cup champion. The Final between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning will wrap up with the hoisting of the best trophy in sports, following a tournament that has been anything but normal. From bubble environments, a unique format, empty stands and, oh yeah, a pandemic, the 2020 champ deserves to stand among the league’s best.
You might remember the NHL’s plan to resume hockey was met with plenty of criticism. Fans weren’t happy teams who struggled during the regular season were given a chance to make the playoffs. Looking at you, Chicago Blackhawks. Fans weren’t happy seeding would be based on round-robin games. Fans weren’t happy just because the eventual winner would claim the Cup under different circumstances.
Stars cruise by Lightning in Stanley Cup opener
Stars cruise by Lightning in Stanley Cup openerSecond-period goals from Jamie Oleksiak and Joel Kiviranta put Dallas in complete control as they grabbed the opener of the best-of-seven series in Edmonton, one of two hub cities for the playoffs to help limit travel and minimize COVID-19 risk.
Fans didn’t know what the teams who made it this far would have to endure. They couldn’t appreciate at the time – and maybe still can’t appreciate – the sacrifices made by these two teams.
The Stars and Lightning have spent months away from home. Each team played an exhibition at the end of July before skating in three round-robin games in early August. The Stanley Cup Final is set to begin on September 19 and will wrap up in the last stretch of September. That’s a long time to be away from normal routines and loved ones. Some players have been fortunate enough to have family join them recently in the bubble, but for the most part it has been a relatively isolated experience.
Mentally, the NHL’s 2020 postseason has been just as grueling as any other playoff tournament in league history. Maybe more so. In addition to the mental toughness needed just to compete, players had to worry about families back home and the enduring virus.
Stamkos returns for Lightning in Game 3
Steven Stamkos has gotten the green light. The Tampa Bay Lightning captain is in the lineup for Game 3 against the Dallas Stars on Wednesday. Stamkos, who hasn't played since Feb. 25 after requiring core muscle surgery, has been dealing with a lower-body injury since the club entered the bubble in July. Stamkos ranked second on the Lightning in both goals (29) and points (66) through 57 regular-season contests. He scored points in 15 consecutive games before being injured.The 30-year-old sniper led the team with 10 power-play goals during the regular season. His presence on the man advantage should boost a unit that's been struggling as of late.
goalie Tuukka Rask has opted out of the NHL's Return to Play:
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins)
Rask’s decision was one we imagine many players considered. We don’t envy anyone who had to go spend extensive time in the NHL’s bubble during these strange times, let alone anyone who was held to high standards out on the ice.
Physically, the Stars and Lightning have been able to maintain a high quality of play despite incredible odds. Remember that NHL players were asked to pick up where they left off with a minimal ramp-up period. They were asked to go from zero-to-sixty after months at home, many unable to maintain their usual workout routines. Then, once they hit the ice, they had to do so at playoff intensity. There wasn’t time to ease back into things or work through the rust. Early missteps resulted in early exists.
Some players may have been trying to compete after dealing with COVID-19 themselves.
Top NHL prospect Justin Barron out indefinitely following medical procedure
The 18-year-old is among the most polished defenders available in the draft and scored 41 points in 68 games during the 2018-19 season. While those numbers fell as he dealt with the blood clot issue this year, Barron was still considered a strong prospect that would be snatched up quickly in the draft.Subscribe to Yardbarker's Morning Bark, the most comprehensive newsletter in sports. Customize your email to get the latest news on your favorite sports, teams and schools. Emailed daily. Always free! Sign up now ▸More must-reads:Lightning captain Steven Stamkos out for Game 4 vs.
Blues GM Doug Armstrong thinks COVID-19 impacted his team. “Coming into Phase 3, there was a lot going on with our organization. Of our regular players, I think like 20% of those guys had COVID at some point.”
Said COVID concerns about family weighed on Blues before bubble.
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski)
The Stars and the Lightning are just as deserving of winning the Stanley Cup as any team in NHL history. Fans asking about asterisks or some sort of note designating the oddity of 2020 need to realize what it has taken to reach this point. These two teams have gone through far more than any team that won during a lockout-shortened season. They’ve probably endured more physically and mentally than any champion to date.
Don’t confuse words such as “unique” or “strange” with words like “fluke” or “unworthy.” Don’t let the empty stands and what will surely be a weird celebration dim the glow of the accomplishment. Don’t let the circus that is 2020 take away from a very deserving champion.
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