An announced crowd of 18,110 fans watched the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night. That’s 18,110 more fans than attended their home opener on Jan. 13 against the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena, and 18,110 more fans than saw them raise last season’s Stanley Cup in the Edmonton, Alberta, bubble on Sept. 26, 2020.
The end of the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs in Tampa, Florida, was symbolic in its normalcy. It wasn’t completely idyllic. There were a few masks worn during the championship ceremony. The media, friends and family were absent from the ice. Postgame news conferences were again held over Zoom, which luckily was able to connect with Nikita Kucherov on whatever plane of existence he was living on after Game 5.
Compare the finale of the season to the start of the season, and there was undeniable optimism that we might be able to put the COVID-19 pandemic season behind us. The vaccines have rolled out as the restrictions on capacity — at least in the U.S. — have eased. As variants run through the Greek alphabet around the world, we’re not out of this pandemic yet. But it sure doesn’t feel like January any longer.
But just because we’re past a pandemic season doesn’t mean we should ignore its lessons or, in some cases, the adjustments made to the NHL during trying times.
Here’s a look at what can go and what can stay from the 2021 pandemic season.