A low-event Stanley Cup finale blessed us with a high-event championship Zoom call.
After the double-lapping and amidst the cork-popping, Nikita Kucherov delivered a press conference that might garner more enthusiastic replays than the game itself.
The Tampa Bay Lightning winger’s dismissal of the Montreal Canadiens fan base should slap him with the villain tag and earn him Bell Centre boos till eternity:
“I didn’t want to go back to Montreal,” Kucherov said. “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.”
His chirping of the press conference itself was amusing:
When Kucherov couldn’t decipher a question, he told a reporter to “buy a new microphone.” And once his podium time outlasted his beverage, he marveled: “Well, it’s a lot of questions too today. Come on. I’m used to one, two questions. Today’s like what, five? I can make a record.”
But at his heart, Kucherov — typically a superstar of few words, and fewer worth quoting — wanted to make a passionate point about his friend, no matter if it ruffled a few feathers.
After storming into view like a one-man party, crashing some fantastic and revealing post-game commentary from Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn, a shirtless Kucherov sat down alone and owned centre stage like it was a post-season scoring race.
Championship cap pulled on backwards and askew, smiling wide, he clapped his hands five times and raised two fingers, one for each time his name will be etched in the Stanley Cup.
Then he tilted his neck back and guzzled a hungry swig.
Kucherov slapped the table, wiped domestic beer from 16 wins’ worth of beard growth and prepared for launch: “Let’s go.”
At one point he sent someone away to fetch champagne.
He was sloppy in the happiest way and happy in the sloppiest way. Pumped full of the serum, Kucherov spewed truth.
Kucherov’s five minutes and 20 seconds on the mic were as refreshing as a first Bud Light and about as unhinged as a sixth.
Rambling and profane as it may have been, the Conn Smythe runner-up had a good point to make about the trophy’s deserving winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“Vasi was outstanding. 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 [Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck]. Number 1 bullshit. Number 1 bullshit,” Kucherov said.
“Vasi took both Cups, and then he took MVP… Another shutout by him. Remarkable. Can’t even tell more. I’m so happy.”
In blanking the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 on home ice in Game 5 of the final, Vasilevskiy became the first goaltender to hoist the Stanley Cup in consecutive playoff years with a goals-against average under 2.00 in each postseason since Montreal’s Ken Dryden in the ’70s.
Vasilevskiy won all 32 of Tampa Bay’s games in the two triumphant tournaments. His backup, Curtis McElhinney, never saw so much as a minute of ice.
More impressive: Vasilevskiy has now recorded a shutout in five consecutive series-clinching wins.
“I can’t believe how he shuts the door in the biggest games of his career,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s the Big Cat, and when he locks in, he is remarkable to watch.
“And you look at the guy he’s going against [Carey Price]: Let’s be honest, the best goalie in my era, we just played against. And the best goalie now in this next era is the goalie that just won a Stanley Cup. And so, I think hockey fans were privileged to watch two generational goalies play tonight. And a torch has been passed.”
Vasilevskiy is only 26 and he’s already charging a path towards the Hockey Hall of Fame.
The Russian’s playoff numbers (16-7, 1.90, .937) are not matched by ego.
Appearing as some sort of soft-spoken anti-Kucherov, Vasilevskiy sat next to his Conn Smythe and deflected away praise like long-range slap shots.
“It’s not about me. It’s about the team,” Vasilevskiy said of his individual trophy. “The whole team deserves it, for sure.”
So caught off-guard was the goalie that he’d been named MVP that he needed prodding from his teammates to skate up and accept the Conn Smythe. For sure, Vasilevskiy thought, Kucherov deserved it. Maybe Brayden Point. But not him.
Vasilevskiy gathered his phone before leaving the ice. He called his parents and then his brother back home to rejoice while so many of the other Lightning’s family members swarmed the ice.
“It’s probably like 4 or 5 a.m. in Russia now, and they were watching me in the morning,” Vasilevskiy said.
“So that’s amazing to just share this moment with them. Unfortunately, they couldn’t get here for this game because it’s a little complicated, but I felt their support, and that’s just amazing.”
Equally amazing was the support Vasilevskiy received from hypeman Kucherov.
Yes, his press conference will surely go viral and trigger some laughs and naysayers.
But there is something beautiful about a guy speaking so strongly in support for a friend who downplays his own role on this historic night.
“He’s very humble guy,” Kucherov said. “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.”
Drop the mic.
Plan the parade.
And don’t be afraid to mix in a water.
Just wait for it… #StanleyCup
( IG/andreivasilevskiy88) pic.twitter.com/KDk02Q3Dzr
— NHL (@NHL) July 8, 2021