The final horn of NHL's tumultuous 2019-2020 season sounded Monday night in Edmonton, simultaneously igniting celebrations on the ice, where the Tampa Bay Lightning secured their second Stanley Cup title at an empty arena, and in downtown Tampa, where euphoric fans gathered to watch the dramatic 2-0 Game 6 win over the Dallas Stars.
Social distancing was put on hold in both cities while players and euphoric Lightning fans rejoiced at the culmination of a season that began nearly one year earlier.
Since then, the NHL suspended play on March 11 as coronavirus swept across North American, leading players and owners to establish testing protocols and a plan to return to play inside league bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. And aside from the empty arenas and fake crowd noise, the final 65 days of the surreal 2019-2020 campaign was nonetheless a fitting ending.
That final horn still set off the traditional on-ice player pile and subsequent parade with teammates taking turns lifting the Cup.
The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate following the series-winning 2-0 victory over the Dallas Stars in Game Six of the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Place on September 28 in Edmonton, Alberta
Tampa Bay Lightning fans watch an NHL Stanley Cup finals hockey game against the Dallas Stars as the fans gather on Thunder Alley to watch as the game is being aired live outside of Amalie Arena
Julie Paine, front center, waves her "Go Bolts" flag as fans gather on Thunder Alley at Amalie Arena before watching as the Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Dallas Stars in an NHL Stanley Cup finals hockey game is aired live outside the arena
HL commissioner Gary Bettman presents Victor Hedman #77 of the Tampa Bay Lightning with the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP following the Lightning's series-winning victory over the Dallas Stars
Goals from Point and Blake Coleman and a 22-save shutout by Andrei Vasilevskiy in Game 6 were enough to power the Lightning to their second championship after winning it in 2004. That also came with the league on the verge of a labor stoppage, a lockout that wiped out an entire season, and similar uncertainty hangs in the air now because of the coronavirus.
Questions about the future were put off for a celebration, by the Lightning and the NHL. Getting this done was a triumph of sorts, financial woes notwithstanding. The NHL is the first of the four major North American professional sports leagues to crown a champion since the start of the pandemic.
Tampa Bay's core group closed out the final with an almost poetic display of what got the Lightning to this point over the past several years and months. Their new star in Point scored a power-play goal in the first period with assists from longtime standouts Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, key addition Coleman killed a penalty and scored on an odd-man rush in the second, and Vasilevskiy did his job on a relatively slow night in net.
It was more of a coronation than a challenge as the dominant Lightning outshot the Stars 29-22 and looked like the powerhouse they've been for much of the past decade.
Tampa Bay Lightning fans Carson Cain, 13, and Cooper Hollis, 13, cheer ahead of Monday's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals
Charlie Jessup, front left, and his wife Tara Jessup, right, cheer as the Tampa Bay Lightning score the first goal on Mondaysonos sonos One (Gen 2) - Voice Controlled Smart Speaker with Amazon Alexa Built-in - Black read more
The league and Players' Association will meet within the next two weeks to discuss the many possibilities of what the 2020-21 season could look like, but there's no desire to stage it