TAMPA: The Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate after defeating the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game Five to win the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on Wednesday. – AFP

MIAMI: The Tampa Bay Lightning won their second straight Stanley Cup Wednesday, edging the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 to win the NHL championship series four games to one. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy bounced back from a game-four defeat in Montreal with a 22-save shutout. With his fifth clean sheet of the post-season, Vasilevskiy scooped the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoffs Most Valuable Player.

"When the team is playing like this in front of you, you get lots of confidence from them and just try to help them however you can, just try to be at your best every night for the guys," Vasilevskiy said. Rookie Ross Colton scored the lone goal as the Lightning became the first back-to-back champions since the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. "It's unbelievable," Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said. "I mean, so cliche to say, but there's no words. 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. I mean, it's amazing."

After failing to close out the series on Monday the Lightning dominated game five early, but they couldn't get a shot past Montreal goaltender Carey Price. Colton changed that at 13:27 of the second period when he slotted a pass from defenseman David Savard past Price to give the Lightning a 1-0 lead. Tampa Bay had won the puck against the near boards, Colton making his way towards the net where he jostled for position with Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson and was able to redirect Savard's pass through traffic into the net.

Colton and Savard were the only two players in the Lightning lineup who didn't feature in last season's championship team. The Lightning's title comes just nine months after they beat the Dallas Stars in six games in a quarantine bubble in Edmonton. This time, they were able to celebrate in front of 18,110 fans at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

"It doesn't take anything away from last year, but to do it again is just validation into history," Stamkos said. "And this group accomplished something that not many people thought could happen, and like I said, to do it in front of our family, our friends and our fans was just amazing."

The Lightning are the first NHL team to clinch a Stanley Cup title at home since the Chicago Blackhawks did it in 2015 - against Tampa Bay. Vasilevskiy, who ended each series of these playoffs with a shut-out, including 1-0 against the New York Islanders in game seven of the Stanley Cup semi-finals, became the first goalie to win the Conn Smythe since Jonathan Quick won it with the Los Angeles Kings in 2012. "I think we might be taking for granted how good he really is, and he's been proving it here now for a number of years," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, "and I think he's just getting started."

Canadian drought

For Tampa Bay's Pat Maroon it was a third straight Stanley Cup. He won with his hometown St Louis Blues in 2019 before going back-to-back with the Lightning to become the first player since 1983 to win three straight - and the first since 1964 to do it with two different teams. "This one was special," Maroon said. "It's hard to win and I was blessed to be a part of good teams and get on a roll. It's hard to go back-to-back and to be a part of the group, that's so special."

For the Canadiens, it was the end of an unlikely playoff run. Unable to build on their game-four victory, they remain in search of a first Stanley Cup title since 1993 - the last time a Canadian Club has lifted the trophy. The Canadiens had been the first team from north of the border in a decade even to reach the final.

They rallied from 1-3 down to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round, then ousted the Winnipeg Jets before downing the Vegas Golden Knights in the semi-finals. "Every single guy gave everything they had every single night," Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher said. "You look at our group and, obviously, there's a lot more talented teams and there's a lot of teams that do a lot of things, but there's no team that's stronger as a group and the resiliency that we showed." - AFP