TAMPA — If there’s one thing rookie Ross Colton has learned in his past five NHL games, it’s that scoring a goal is still plenty exciting.
In Thursday’s 4-2 win over Chicago, the forward disrupted a Blackhawks pass in the defensive zone and used his speed to move up the ice when Pat Maroon got control of the puck.
Maroon passed off to his right and found Mathieu Joseph at center ice. Then Joseph threaded a pass through traffic and put it right on Colton’s stick at the blueline.
Colton raced toward Kevin Lankinen, whiffing on his first two attempts to slide the puck past the Chicago goaltender before he made his way into the paint. One swift move around Lankinen’s right goalie pad was enough to give the Lightning the 3-2 lead after a scoreless second period.
“I think my facial expression said it all after the goal there,” Colton said. “I was pretty excited. Any goal in any game I think is pretty awesome. … It made it a little bit more special that we got the win.”
It’s been plays like this that have grabbed the eyes of Colton’s coaches and Lightning teammates.
Since his Feb. 24 NHL debut, the rookie has made the most of his playing opportunities. Thursday was Colton’s first back-to-back start, and in five games he has registered two goals and one assist, averaging 8:46 on ice per game while mostly skating on the fourth line with Maroon and Joseph.
Both of Colton’s goals proved to be game winners, and he also helped secure the 4-3 shootout win in Dallas on Tuesday.
The Lightning’s fourth line has grown some chemistry. Colton said he, Maroon and Joseph have developed a “gritty” style and help create momentum for the other lines if the scoring chances aren’t there.
Coach Jon Cooper said the 24-year-old has “checked all of the boxes” lately.
“He’s won faceoffs, he competes hard, he can play down low, he doesn’t get pushed off pucks...,” Cooper said. “And then he shows he’s got an extra gear as you saw on that third goal.”
His teammates see the effort, as well. Yanni Gourde called his play of late “phenomenal.”
“He does it all,” Gourde continued. “He’s had a positive impact on the lineup, obviously, with his offensive contribution but also all-around play.”
Even Mitchell Stephens — who has been sidelined with a lower-body injury since Jan. 23 — has watched and been impressed.
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“It’s exciting to see him do well,” Stephens said. “He’s been playing so well in Syracuse. … He’s a good player and a great guy. … He’s definitely proving that he’s earning his spot in the lineup.”
Colton didn’t have much time to think about Thursday’s goal. He just went for it with the mind-set that he was going to shoot, but when Chicago’s Lankinen committed to blocking Colton one way, the forward sneaked the puck around from the other side.
While every game builds his confidence a little more in playing at the highest level, it also doesn’t hurt having a 10-year veteran like Maroon skating with him.
Colton said Maroon has “been in his ear” about sticking to his game and not overthinking things, reminding Colton to not play scared and that he deserves to be here.
“That goes a long way coming from someone like him,” Colton said. “It’s definitely been awesome to play with him.”
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