Lightning defeat Habs to clinch back-to-back Stanley Cup titles, 3rd in franchise history
Tampa goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy awarded Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP
As goaltenders are prone to do, Carey Price tried to take all the blame after the Montreal Canadiens came up agonizingly short in their against-all-odds campaign to end Canada's 28-year Stanley Cup drought.
Price, expressionless and downcast, was fielding the dreaded what-went-wrong question when he took the blame for Wednesday's Game 5 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"I just don't think I played well enough at the start of the series," he said.
Shea Weber was having none of it.
"I don't think that's the case at all — to be honest, I think that we weren't good enough in front of Carey," Weber interrupted his netminder, the pair of them struggling to express themselves after Wednesday's 1-0 loss.
"I mean, give [Tampa Bay] credit. They're a heck of a team," Weber said. "They're here for a reason. And they were better than us."
WATCH | Stamkos, Lightning players lift Stanley Cup:
The Canadiens won Game 4 in overtime to stay alive and shift the series back to Florida. Lighting forward Nikita Kucherov was more than happy to end the series at home.
"I didn't want to go back to Montreal. The fans in Montreal, come one. They acted like they won the Stanley Cup last game. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Their final was last series," said Kucherov.
The victors and the vanquished briefly shared the ice in the pandemonium that followed the final horn, the ovation deafening, the rink covered in hockey gear and the light-up promotional bracelets the fans received at the gate.
One side was celebrating, the other waiting to congratulate them.
"It's not fun to watch somebody else do what you want to be doing," Price said afterward of the moment. "Whether you're watching it on TV or standing there on the bench, it's still the same feeling."
The game's only goal came after 33 scoreless minutes, when Ross Colton — playing in his first Stanley Cup final — tipped home David Savard's pass as it drifted through the crease behind a surprised Price.
WATCH | Colton's goal clinches Game 5, Stanley Cup for Lightning:
Price left the net in the game's final minute to give the Canadiens an extra attacker, but it was to no avail.
The loss extends the championship deficit for the Canadiens, whose last Cup victory — the last time a Canadian team claimed the game's holy grail — came at the end of the Lightning's debut season in 1993.
"I played on a lot of really good teams with a lot of really good guys — it's hard right now, sorry," an emotional Brendan Gallagher said afterward, struggling to contain his disappointment.
"We've got so many players that worked their entire career to get to this point. And it's a tough pill to swallow."
Vasilevskiy awarded Conn Smythe
Andrei Vasilevskiy had a series-ending shutout for an NHL-record fifth consecutive time dating to the 2020 final and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
Finishing with a handful in a frantic final minute, Vasilevskiy made 22 saves to remain undefeated in games after a loss over the past two playoffs, both contested during a deadly pandemic with the Lightning coming out on top each time.
Price turned away 29 shots.
"It's unbelievable," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "This group, to go back to back after everything we went through last year in the bubble, to go through this year ups and downs it's amazing."
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said of Tampa Bay winning a championship, "It feels like things are normal," to the crowd of 17,000 at Amalie Arena.
"To do it in front of our fans and our families, it's so special, special," defenceman Victor Hedman said. "It's out of this world. Winning a Stanley Cup is one thing. But doing it in front of our fans, family means the world."
Minutes later, Stamkos paraded the Cup around with fans cheering and pyrotechnics going off behind him.
The National | Canadiens' Cinderella run comes to an end:
Both the Habs and the Lightning went 0 for 3 on the power play.
"This group has a lot of character and were up against a lot of adversity this year and we proved a lot of people wrong — and in a tough year, to boot, where things weren't normal," Weber said.
"The guys stuck together and battled hard and obviously, you know, I wouldn't change it for anything and I'm super proud of these guys."
For some of Montreal's younger superstars, the unlikely campaign was a rare chance to experience professional hockey at its pinnacle, a teachable moment they can only hope will present itself again.
"This is what you play for, to have that opportunity — once, twice, maybe even if that — in your career," young star forward Cole Caufield said after the team's pre-game skate.
Interim head coach Dominique Ducharme said he reminded his players after the game about all the injury and COVID-19 related challenges they confronted in order to have a crack at winning the Stanley Cup.
"We had to go through a lot of things," Ducharme said.
"We kept moving forward, kept getting better and so we grew as a team a lot. We've got to use that the right way, and we want to make it back here with a different result."
WATCH | Habs fans react following heartbreaking Stanley Cup final loss:
With files from The Associated Press