The Lightning's quest for the Stanley Cup seemed interminable and, at times, this season has felt endless. Perhaps it is fitting that 2020 will now live forever in Tampa Bay.
Yes, the wait is finally over. For a group of players who have been stalking the Cup since 2015, and for a community of fans accustomed to late-season heartbreak. The Lightning have been the winningest franchise in the NHL for the past half-dozen seasons, and now they have the trophy that finally validates their blood, sweat and careers.
Tampa Bay beat Dallas 2-0 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday night, ending a chase that has alternated from exhilarating to exasperating and back again. Brayden Point, hockey's most overlooked superstar, started the Lightning on the way with a first-period goal.
And so the pandemic-delayed season that took 12 months to complete was finally conquered by the team that took an eternity to grow up.
Yes, it is now permissible to remember them that way. It was never a question of talent or desire with these guys, it just took them a while to realize the fancy skills that made them the darlings of the regular season were not enough to turn them into playoff legends.
Two Game 7 losses in the Eastern Conference final in 2016 and 2018, a Game 6 departure in the Stanley Cup final in 2015 and, most demoralizing, a first-round disappearing act after winning the President's Trophy in 2019.
The Tampa Bay Lightning again have an opportunity to hoist the Stanley Cup as they face the Dallas Stars in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final.
Turns out, those were just obligatory tearjerkers in hockey's ultimate tale of redemption.
So call the engravers. Tell them to start carving immediately, because Lord Stanley's Cup has a long journey ahead from the bubble in Edmonton. They need a prominent spot on the Cup for Point's name, and one for Victor Hedman, too. Ondrej Palat will certainly be near the top of the ring, and Nikita Kucherov is clearly deserving, too.
Mourn, if you want, the circumstances. It stinks that after all the near-misses and disappointments, the Lightning finally won in an empty arena thousands of miles from home. The players deserved better, and so did their fans. They deserved to stand in the same building, to raise their voices to the rafters and to bask in a glory both rare and unifying.