By Frank Pingue
(Reuters) – The Tampa Bay Lightning secured a long-awaited Stanley Cup in 2020, Swedish goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s stellar career with the New York Rangers ended and the NHL officially welcomed the Seattle Kraken amid a season unlike any before due to COVID-19.
After years of hype and expectations followed by two months in isolation, the juggernaut Lightning finally avenged past playoff disappointments when they capped a surreal season with a Stanley Cup triumph in September.
The success was all the sweeter for the Lightning given that they lost in the penultimate playoff round in 2011, 2016 and 2018, were beaten by Chicago in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final and were swept in stunning fashion out of the first round in 2019.
“There are some gifted people, I guess, that success finds them instantly,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “But in a team sport I truly believe that in failure, you have to feel it before you can have success.”
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, one of the most gifted scorers of his generation, was limited to just one game in the playoffs because of injury but he made his brief three minutes of ice time felt as he scored with his first shot.
The goal put the Lightning ahead 2-0 early in a game they won to grab a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and while Stamkos did not play again, he was in uniform five days later to accept the Stanley Cup from NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
The season came to a close nearly three months later than usual with play having been halted in mid-March due to COVID-19 before resuming in August with a Stanley Cup tournament played entirely in Toronto and Edmonton without spectators.
Lundqvist, who presided over one of the more successful runs in Rangers history and holds over 50 franchise records, had the final year of his contract bought out after seeing his playing time decrease in the recently-concluded NHL season.
The 38-year-old goalie, who also helped Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 2006, has earned more career NHL wins than any other non-North American born goaltender and also reached the 400-win mark faster than any other netminder in league history.
“Representing this organization has been the biggest source of pride and joy in my life,” Lundqvist said in September.
“I’m so grateful for the opportunity, for the friendships and for all the great memories created wearing the red, white and blue. I will always cherish my time as a Ranger.”
Seattle, after 18 months engaged in extensive research during which 1,200 names were considered, unveiled its Kraken nickname along with a striking “S” logo that pays homage to the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association complete with a red eye and a tentacle.
The name of the NHL’s newest franchise, which will begin play in 2021-22 as the league’s 32nd team, drew inspiration from its location on the Pacific Ocean in choosing the mythological creature featured in Scandinavian folklore.
“This name embodies a connection with the sea and a curiosity of what lies beneath it,” said Kraken general manager Ron Francis. “It’s a natural tie to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.”