You would think that, months into this exceptionally strange year and at the tail end of this very, very, very weird season, I would have gotten used to the particular strangeness of bubble hockey.
And yet, I’m struggling to adequately describe the feeling of watching game six of the Stanley Cup Final, knowing that the Stanley Cup was in the building, knowing that I could very well be watching an important moment in NHL history, and still having to remind myself every few minutes that this was indeed game 6 of the Stanley Cup final and not some random round 1 game. Not to mention the weirdness of watching a Stanley Cup celebration with no fans.
I think if there’s one thing this year’s playoff have taught me, it’s that home ice advantage is more of a thing than I thought it was. The energy in the arena during the Stanley Cup Final is a specific thing, and I don’t know if this game was actually boring or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me, but watching two teams literally play for the Stanley Cup without any fans in the building was… weird. It was weird.
What a year, man.
The game was slow to start, with most of the play happening in the neutral zone and not many scoring chances happening on either side. The Lightning were afforded the first powerplay of the game about halfway into the first period, but the penalty was effectively killed by the Stars, who got arguably the best scoring chance of the entire two minutes.
Corey Perry did his thing after that, by which I mean he may or may not have injured someone with a big hit. He didn’t get a penalty for it, but John Klingberg went to the box soon after, and Tampa Bay scored on the ensuing powerplay to take a 1-0 lead.
That is one happy Brayden Point! #StanleyCup— NHL (@NHL) September 29, 2020
: https://t.co/LGfEWYbkhS @nbc
: https://t.co/eVCyWTbCNm @Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/BJMYe0WJWx
The Bolts thoroughly took control of the game from that point on, outshooting their opponent by a pretty significant margin. They took a late penalty, and while Dallas looked good on the powerplay, it wasn’t enough to even the score.
Before the end of the period, the NHL also showed this very yikes image of Amalie arena in Tampa Bay. Isn’t Florida faring pretty badly in this whole pandemic situation?
so you’re telling me florida is a disaster right now, huh pic.twitter.com/TaaKgAlOfY— thomas williams (@nosalaryretaind) September 29, 2020
Like I said, yikes.
The start of the second period was mostly uneventful. About 7 minutes in, the Lightning doubled their lead with a beautiful shot from Coleman, who was apparently a Stars fan growing up. Nice.
It quickly became clear that if a Stars comeback was going to happen, it wasn’t going to happen in the second period. They looked extremely tired, and looked especially slow on the powerplay. They did manage to kill off a penalty, though, and the period ended with Tampa Bay ahead 2-0.
Why yes, @patmaroon did knock the puck out of the air to start the play. #StanleyCup— NHL (@NHL) September 29, 2020
: https://t.co/LGfEWYbkhS @nbc
: https://t.co/eVCyWTbCNm @Sportsnet pic.twitter.com/bRgTn0wYi3
Sadly, the Stars showed no sign of life in the third period, either. They looked entirely hapless as Tampa continued to pummel them with shots. They had about one minute of continued pressure in the Lightning zone and very few chances.
And so the Stars’ season ended, not with a bang, but with a whimper.
Tampa held out until the final buzzer to become the Stanley Cup Champions, Victor Hedman both won the Conn Smythe and got the first pass, and Gary Bettman achieved his lifelong dream of not being booed by the crowd while he’s on the ice. Honestly, this is proof that the NHL is no fun and deserves no rights. Why couldn’t they pump in crowd noise of fans booing? Why couldn’t the players boo on behalf of the fans? Come on.
Personally, if I were a professional NHL player who had just won the Stanley Cup and nobody booed Gary Bettman, I would always feel like there was something missing. Like, have you really won the Stanley Cup if you didn’t get to hear him get booed? Come on.
Look. This wasn’t the most exciting game, or the most exciting series, but I have to give props to the Stars here. They had a hell of a run, and I hope their fans appreciated it.
I hope all NHL fans appreciated this, actually, because none of us have any idea when hockey is going to come back.
And you know what? I’m feeling sentimental tonight, so I’m going to give credit where credit is due: the NHL actually pulled this off. They awarded the Stanley Cup to a team that deserved it, and they managed to hold an entire playoff season without a single player contracting COVID-19 in the bubble. I still think it was reckless and a waste of resources, but it could have gone a lot worse.
I’m going to miss NHL hockey.