Once the Lightning’s on-ice Stanley Cup celebrations transitioned into the dressing room champagne and alcohol party, it was also time for players and coaches to do their media availabilities.
Nikita Kucherov, who led the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 32 points, arrived deep into celebration mode. Entering the media room ready to Zoom with reporters, the Conn Smythe Trophy runner-up was shirtless and crushing Bud Lights as he took questions.
He had a lot to say.
Vasilevskiy’s hype man
Andrei Vasilevskiy was the 17th goaltender voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy and first since Jonathan Quick in 2012. Asked about his fellow countryman’s year, Kucherov sounded off on the NHL’s general manager’s, who vote on the Vezina Trophy.
“Vasi was outstanding,” said Kucherov. “MVP. I was telling him every day: ‘Vasi, you MVP. You’re the best player.’ And then they give it to whatever the guy in Vegas [Marc-Andre Fleury], the Vezina. Last year they gave it to somebody else [Connor Hellebuyck]. Number 1 b——-. Number 1 b——-.
“Vasi took both Cups, and then he took MVP. Another shutout by him. Remarkable. Can’t even tell more. I’m so happy.”
(Those “Number 1 b——-” t-shirts are probably being printed and sold in the Tampa Bay area right now.)
Vasilevsky has now recorded shutouts in the Lightning’s last five playoff series-clinching games, two of which earned them Stanley Cups.
“He’s very humble guy,” Kucherov said of the Tampa Bay goaltender. “He doesn’t want people near him to say he’s the best. He wants to prove me he’s the best, but I know he’s the best, you know? He wants to prove me, but I’m like, ‘Vasi you prove me a f—ing long time ago. When I was 15, you proved it to me.’
“Even though he’s getting robbed every year by NHL, not getting the Vezina, he’s still humble, he still works hard. If he would play in a different market, he would take this Vezina year after year. He would beat all the records, whatever, blah, blah, blah. He’s the best.”
Kucherov was airing grievances but also enjoying himself. Not one to do a ton of media during the season, he was also curious with the amount of attention he was getting in the post-celebration Zoom conference.
“Well, it’s a lot of questions too today,” he said. “Come on. I’m used to one, two questions. Today’s like what, five? I can make a record.”
Even Canadiens fans weren’t safe
Kucherov also set his sights on Canadiens fans following Montreal’s Game 4 overtime win to extend the series. The celebrations in the city didn’t sit well with him. There were no good feelings from his side about their memorable playoff run.
“I didn’t want to go back to Montreal,” Kucherov said of Tampa Bay’s Game 5 win. “The fans in Montreal, come on. They acted like they won the Stanley Cup last game. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding me? Their final was last series.”
Killorn’s broken fibula
Alex Killorn played only Game 1 of the Cup Final, missing the final four games due to a lower-body injury. Wednesday night it was revealed the forward suffered a broken fibula after blocking a shot. He participated in the morning skate in Game 4, but was eventually ruled out.
Despite not suiting up, Killorn, who grew up a Canadiens fan, was in full gear for the Cup celebration at AMALIE Arena.
“It got worse after trying it,” Killorn said. “Watching the games is like one of the hardest things to do, especially with a close game like this, but it’s all worth it to win it in front of the fans like this. It was special.”
Stamkos acknowledges team’s uncertain off-season
The salary cap ceiling not increasing will provide Lighting GM Julien BriseBois lots of challenges this summer. Some more gymnastics will be needed to ice a cap compliant team next season, which means there will be some regular faces likely exiting this off-season.
When asked about the bond the team has developed over the last two seasons, captain Steven Stamkos understood changes are coming.
“This group, no matter what happens from here on out, this group is going to be etched in history forever, and that’s pretty F’ing special,” Steven Stamkos said. “I’m so proud of the guys. You can’t soak it in yet. It’s so fresh. It’s so new. You don’t even realize what’s going to happen. We won the Stanley Cup, and we still have the Stanley Cup. That’s just amazing.”
No sleep when you go back to back ! pic.twitter.com/0kVOtvqTYx
— Steven Stamkos (@RealStamkos91) July 8, 2021
“This is realistically the last time we’re going to have the chance to all play together,” he added.