The 2019 Virginia Cavaliers men’s basketball team and now the 2020 Tampa Bay Lightning have completed the most improbable postseason runs of all time. Obviously, everyone knows by now that Virginia was the first ever No. 1 seed to lose to a No. 16 seed in 2018. A year later, the Cavaliers hoisted the trophy over their heads. On Monday, the Lightning got to hold the Stanley Cup over their heads, shouting out the Dallas Stars 2-0 in Game 6.
In 2019, the Tampa Bay Lightning had a historic regular season, going 62-16-4 and earning 128 points, the most points in a regular season. 62 wins tied the 1995-96 Red Wings, regular season team. The Wings lost in the second round in the playoffs. Like the Wings, the Lightning lost in the playoffs, but what made it so historic is they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. A team that had the best regular season of all time couldn’t even win a game in the postseason. That’s like saying the 2015-16 Golden State Warriors or the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls got swept in the first round of the playoffs. It’s hard to even imagine that.
Less than a year later, the Lightning found themselves in the thick of it yet again and were getting ready for another postseason appearance. And then in mid-March, that became an uncertainty due to COVID-19 when the NHL paused their season. It wasn’t until over four months later that they would get to finally play in the postseason. Since they were a top four team in the Eastern Conference, they were in a round-robin along with the Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Lightning earned the No. 2 seed to begin their first round of the Playoffs. And guess what? They faced the Columbus Blue Jackets again for the second straight year.
The series started off with a five-overtime game. Yes, five overtimes. Brayden Point finally scored, scoring his second of the game to give the Lightning a 3-2 win in Game 1. The Blue Jackets won 3-1 in Game 2, before the Lightning won three straight one-goal games. Victor Hedman, Yanni Gourde and Point scored the game winners. He scored his second overtime goal to end the series with five goals scored. Nikita Kucherov recorded seven assists, including the game-winning assist in Game 5. Kevin Shattenkirk and Anthony Cirelli had two late third quarter goals from Point and Kucherov to send the game into overtime.
In the second round, the Lightning faced the Boston Bruins. The Bruins were without goaltender Tukka Rask after Rask decided to leave the bubble and not play in the first round. The Bruins got the best of Tampa Bay in Game 1 winning 3-2. However, Tampa got a one-goal win of their own, with Ondrej Palat’s overtime goal to give Tampa the 4-3 win. Tampa would control the next two games, with a 7-1 and 3-1 win in Games 3 and 4. However, it took their fourth overtime win of the postseason to close the Bruins 3-2. Victor Hedman scored his fifth goal of the playoffs and was assisted by Shattenkirk and Point, who recorded his 12th assist of the playoffs. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was the second star of the game after saving 45 shots.
In the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Islanders, the Lightning came out guns blazing, scoring their postseason high eight goals. In their 8-2 win, their two best players in the postseason, Point and Kucherov, had their best games. Both were the first two stars of the game with five points each. Point had two goals and three assists, while Kucherov had one goal and four assists. In Game 2, it was Kucherov delivering the dagger with nine seconds left, giving the Lightning a 2-1 win, and more importantly, putting them up 2-0 in the series. The Islanders won two of the next three to force a Game 6, but just like the first two series, the Lightning ended the series with an overtime win. Cirelli got his third goal of the playoffs and sent Tampa to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In their first Stanley Cup appearance since 2015, the Lightning went against the pesky Dallas Stars. The Stars started the series with a 4-1 win before the Lightning won their ninth one-goal victory, with a 3-2 win in Game 2. Without captain Steven Stamkos for most of the postseason, Stamkos would play three minutes in Game 3. It was only three minutes, but they were effective because the captain scored his only goal of the playoffs. Stamkos put them up 2-0, and they scored three more, earning the 5-2 victory. Kucherov picked up his 30th point in the playoffs after scoring a goal and assist. Point also scored a goal and an assist and earned his 28th point in the bubble. In Game 4, the Lightning had one more magical overtime win left in them. After trailing 2-0, they battled back thanks to two goals in a row from Point. The game would go into overtime after Joe Pavelski of the Stars tied it up at four apiece late in the third. However, Shattenkirk scored his third and most important goal of the playoffs, giving the Lightning a 5-4 win, and more importantly a 3-1 series lead. After the Stars won Game 5 in overtime 3-2 to force a Game 6, the Lightning were trying to win their first Stanley Cup since 2004. The Lightning played their best defensive game of the postseason, shouting out the Stars 2-0 to win the Cup. Vasilevskiy recorded his only shutout of the playoffs and Kucherov won the Conn Smythe Trophy after he scored seven goals and 27 assists. The game winning goal was also his assist to no other than Point, who seemed to score every game-winning goal for the Lightning in the playoffs.
Head coach Jon Cooper was wearing a Virginia Cavaliers 2019 National Championship hat in his interview with SVP, and he said he acquired the hat right after they lost to the Blue Jackets. Now, over a year later and a little bit longer than expected, Cooper’s message to his team all year finally paid off, and his team got to experience the other side of history: hoisting Lord Stanley over their head.