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Fuelled by 2019 buyout, Shattenkirk puts Lightning on verge of Cup

EDMONTON — Kevin Shattenkirk is due to be paid a little more than $1.4 million by the New York Rangers next season.

Yes, the same Kevin Shattenkirk who just scored the goal that left the Tampa Bay Lightning one win away from lifting the Stanley Cup.

There is some symmetry to the fact that Shattenkirk’s overtime winner came on the same day the NHL’s buyout window reopened. The sting of being bought out by the Rangers, his childhood team, in August 2019 played a huge role in why he’s here now — both because it served as a motivator and gave him the chance to take a below-market $1.75-million, one-year deal from Tampa in order to chase a championship.

Shattenkirk and the Lightning could finish the job as soon as Saturday night with Game 5 against the Dallas Stars coming on the back end of a back-to-back.

“I never kind of forget what happened last summer and I’ve used that to fuel me and just not get comfortable,” Shattenkirk said after a thrilling 5-4 victory. “I’m looking forward to tomorrow night because then it could all come really full circle.”

That’s true of so many in the Lightning dressing room.

They are on the verge of not only piercing the NHL bubble, but also discarding their reputation as a team that couldn’t get over the hump. Perhaps that helps explain why they’ve developed the resilience needed to win six overtime games during this playoff run and erase 2-0 and 3-2 leads during an entertaining Game 4 where Dallas threw everything it had at them.

Tampa finds itself ahead 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final because it’s enjoyed a decided edge in specialty teams — Shattenkirk’s shot through a Pat Maroon screen was one of three Lightning goals scored on the power play Friday — and its top line of Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat has been too much to handle.

Dallas was one of the best defensive teams in the league this season at taking away the middle of the ice. But they’ve had trouble containing the pace, precision and lateral passing ability possessed by Tampa’s top players.

“A lot of teams can play with pace, a lot of teams can play with skill,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “To be able to play with both is a special talent, and all three of those guys can do that. And it’s really hard to defend and I don’t even know if they played against us that we could defend it.”

Besides Shattenkirk’s winner, the biggest goal of the night came from Point. The Lightning had fallen behind 2-0 during a first period where they’d spent a lot of time in the offensive zone and might easily have found themselves discouraged.

The in-house announcer at Rogers Place was still announcing Joe Pavelski’s 2-0 marker when Point responded on a play where it took the Lightning two passes and roughly six seconds to cover 200 feet of ice.

Shattenkirk was behind the Lightning goal and wisely waited for Point to swing back and gain speed. He then banked a pass directly on to Palat’s stick in the neutral zone and Palat sent Point in alone by hitting him in stride and Tampa’s top centre made no mistake with a backhand-forehand-backhand deke on Anton Khudobin.

“That goal was amazing,” said teammate Yanni Gourde.

“We stay in the present, we don’t worry about what happened before and we have some great players that make big-time plays,” added Alex Killorn. “I think when Pointer scores that goal at the end of the period, that’s a huge goal when you look back at that game. Who knows what’s going to happen if he doesn’t score that goal?

“And he’s been scoring those goals all playoffs.”

This version of the Lightning has continually found a way during its nine weeks inside the bubble. They’ve won a quintuple overtime game, a double-overtime game and they’re now 6-5 in games where the opponent scored first.

On this night, they also weathered a controversial offsetting minor call late in regulation when Corey Perry stuck Point between the legs. That became even more problematic when Mikhail Sergachev took a holding minor early in overtime that required them to kill 3-on-4 for more than a minute.

“We deserved to kill that off just for the mere fact of how we were put down,” said Cooper.

After surviving that, they got a power play of their own on a Jamie Benn trip that left the Stars incensed. Then Gourde won a faceoff back to Victor Hedman, who slid the puck over to Shattenkirk for the biggest goal of his life.

Shattenkirk said that moment came with “every sort of emotion you can think of.” He’s resurrected himself out of the lowest periods of his career.

“I don’t think it’s ever comfortable when a team buys you out,” said Cooper. “There’s a lot of us, including myself, and everybody in that core group that’s been here for a few years and (Zach Bogosian) and Pat Maroon and Shatty and go down the list of guys that are enjoying this ride.

“I do know one thing, nobody’s taken it for granted.”

One win away from lifting the Cup. An opportunity you work a lifetime to get.

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