EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — Kevin Shattenkirk will never forget having his contract bought out in the summer of 2019 and joining the Tampa Bay Lightning because he felt their core players had a similar chip on their shoulders after a shocking first-round exit.
More than a year later, he created a moment to remember to put the Lightning on the verge of making good on years of unfulfilled potential.
Shattenkirk scored a power-play goal in overtime after a questionable penalty, and the Lightning beat the Dallas Stars 5-4 Friday night to take a 3-1 lead in the final and move a victory away from lifting the Stanley Cup. With Game 5 on Saturday night, Tampa Bay was potentially 24 hours away from its second championship in franchise history after winning it in 2004.
“Looking forward to tomorrow night because then it could all come really full circle,” Shattenkirk said. “We’ve got a job to do here. It’s still not finished.”
It almost is for a core group that has so far been unable to get over the hump despite being one of the best teams in the NHL for much of the past decade. Shattenkirk came over after the New York Rangers let him go, but guys like Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Andrei Vasilevskiy and coach Jon Cooper have been around a while and are focused on finishing this.
“They came here to do something,” Cooper said. “They’re on their way, but we’ve said all along, we haven’t won anything yet. We still have to win one more and we’re not taking anything for granted.”
It was another dominant performance by top players who looked exactly like they wouldn’t be denied after getting this far. Point, the Lightning’s top center, scored consecutive goals at the end of the first period and start of the second, creating and sustaining the kind of momentum that has been so important in the playoffs.
The Lightning got the winning power play when Dallas captain Jamie Benn was called for tripping Tyler Johnson on a play where Benn’s skates never made contact with Johnson’s as trailing referee Francis Charron called it.
“I don’t have a ton of time for a play where Tyler Johnson steps in front of Jamie Benn and it has no real effect in the play, and Jamie breathes on him and the guy falls over,” said Stars veteran Joe Pavelski, who scored twice. “Whether that’s the case or not, there’s a little battle going on there, but it’s playoffs, it’s overtime. We expect 5-on-5. We expect to battle it out.”
To get to that point, some of the Lightning’s best players were at their best.
Hedman, perhaps the Conn Smythe front-runner as playoff MVP showed why in the third period by saving a goal. With the puck slowly sliding in the crease toward the goal behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, Hedman swept it out of harm’s way.
Instead of the plucky Stars reclaiming the lead, Alex Killorn put the Lightning ahead a few shifts later with a play that was half hard-working power and half sublime skill. He won a puck battle behind the net, cruised to the right faceoff circle and fired a perfect shot into the top left corner.
There wasn’t much Stars goaltender Anton Khudobin could do on that one, and Vasilevskiy was the victim of two bad bounces that almost allowed Dallas to even the series. John Klingberg’s goal that opened the scoring came after his initial shot went off Tampa Bay’s Jan Rutta and through Hedman’s legs, and Pavelski’s second that tied it in the third pinballed in off the goalie and Shattenkirk.
“In my head, I was thinking I deserve some sort of good karma after that,” Shattenkirk said.
On the winning power play, Shattenkirk told Hedman to get him the puck and he’d find a lane. The shot got through, setting off a raucous celebration as Lightning players hopped off the bench to swarm Shattenkirk.
Even before OT, The Lightning carried the play for much of the night and showed the depth and talent that has made them a Cup contender for several years. Their core players are closer to the Cup than they ever have been, five years after taking a 2-1 series lead in the final and losing in six to Chicago.
It would take an impressive comeback by a suddenly beaten up Stars bunch to keep Tampa Bay from another sunshine state title, this time won in the NHL’s northernmost city with no fans in the stands.
The Lightning came in with more important players fighting through injuries, including Point and No. 2 center Anthony Cirelli. But the Stars lost another key piece in forward Roope Hintz, who was injured when Johnson’s stick got stuck in his left skate and he crashed hard into the boards.
Penalties remain Dallas’ undoing. The least disciplined team in the playoffs took five more in Game 4 and allowed three power-play goals.
The Lightning survived a penalty kill of their own minutes early in OT after defenseman Mikhail Sergachev was whistled for holding Tyler Seguin. There wasn’t a whole lot of love for the officiating throughout and after this one.
“The refs are trying, we’re trying, the other team’s trying,” Cooper said. “It’s not a perfect science. When the stakes are so high and the emotions are so high, something you think doesn’t go your way, you tend to get a little riled up.”
NOTES: Yanni Gourde scored the second of Tampa Bay’s three power-play goals. … Pavelski’s two goals give him 60 in his playoff career, tying him with Joe Mullen for the most by an American player. Asked about it, Pavelski said: “Keep it. Next question.” … Stars forward Corey Perry became the first player in NHL history to score a regular season and a Stanley Cup Final goal in the month of September. … With captain Steven Stamkos unavailable again because of injury, the Lightning stuck with 12 forwards and six defensemen, inserting Carter Verhaeghe in his place.
Game 5 Saturday night marks the first back to back in the final since 2009 and just the second since the 1950s.