Light­ning on verge of lift­ing Cup

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS - — As­so­ci­ated Press

Kevin Shat­tenkirk (above) will never for­get hav­ing his con­tract bought out in the sum­mer of 2019 and join­ing the 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 Stars 5-4 Fri­day night to take a 3-1 lead in the fi­nal and move a vic­tory away from lift­ing the Stan­ley Cup. 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.

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.

“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.

JA­SON FRANSON/AP

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