TAMPA — Ross Colton has been part of some pretty big moments during his first 10 games in the NHL. And the rookie forward continues to deliver.
The Lightning needed a boost late in the third period Thursday night, down a goal to the Blue Jackets at 2-1 and in danger of losing their fourth straight game.
Tampa Bay’s fourth line led a five-man rush, with forward Pat Maroon moving the puck down the left side. Colton was trailing and called for the puck.
Just before he was about to take a hit into the boards, Maroon dropped a pass for Colton. Colton skated to the left circle and unloaded a wrister inside the far post that tied the score with 5:12 remaining.
That was the strike needed by the Lightning, which had been minutes away from consecutive one-goal outputs.
Just 66 seconds later, forward Brayden Point backhanded a shot that deflected into the net for his second goal of the game, and that ended up being the winner in a 3-2 victory at Amalie Arena that ended the Lightning’s season-high three-game losing streak.
“It’s great to see,” Point said of Colton. “He works hard and practices hard. He does the little things right, and to see him have success is awesome. It takes a pretty special player to be able to jump right in and contribute, and he’s done that.”
There’s no doubt the 24-year-old, who debuted Feb. 24 against the Hurricanes, has shown a penchant for big moments. The first two goals of Colton’s career were winners, including a tiebreaking third-period goal in a 4-2 win over Chicago two weeks ago. The game before that, he scored a huge goal in the first round of a shootout to propel Tampa Bay to a 4-3 win in Dallas.
Thursday’s score came after Columbus forward Eric Robinson used his speed to turn the corner on Lightning defenseman Cal Foote along the left side and beat goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (who had 36 saves) with 9:06 remaining in the game.
“I thought our urgency was there,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We were fighting through the third period. They kind of beat us wide, but I honestly think our urgency picked up a little bit more once that (Columbus) goal went in and we were just building momentum, and then obviously when Ross scored, it was a little bit of a release.”
The Lightning came out fast, but Columbus controlled play for most of the second period and well into the third. Defenseman Victor Hedman saved a goal by preventing forward Boone Jenner’s shot from crossing the goal line with his stick. And Tampa Bay hit the post four times over the game’s final 22 minutes.
Colton found a way to deliver.
“I just like that Coach believes in me and has the confidence in me to put me out there with our line out there in the third period,” Colton said. “We had some good chances, and I think that the coach sees that and we stick with it, and good things happen when you play the right way.”
Colton said that in pregame scouting meetings, coaches said Columbus has a tendency to back down going into its defensive zone, so Colton thought he’d have some room to skate. And when he crossed the left circle, he remembered that he passed up a similar look earlier in the game and came away empty. He wasn’t going to do that again.
“That time I just wanted to get pucks on net, and luckily, it went in,” Colton said.
He also remembered from the scouting meeting that Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is susceptible low to his glove side. He noticed Foote skating toward the far post, so he knew the defenseman would be in place for a potential rebound.
“(Colton has) only played a few games with us, and he scored some mighty big goals for us in such a short amount of time — like, timely goals,” Cooper said. “I’m sure it doesn’t get old.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Point 14 (Hedman, Stamkos), 15:45 (pp). Penalties—Texier, CBJ (Holding), 13:59; Columbus bench, served by Domi (Too Many Men on the Ice), 14:58.
Second Period—2, Columbus, Werenski 5 (Robinson, Domi), 9:04. Penalties—Foligno, CBJ (Hooking), 3:35; Joseph, TB (Unsportsmanlike Conduct), 3:35; Killorn, TB (Slashing), 16:03; Foudy, CBJ (Tripping), 18:34.
Third Period—3, Columbus, Robinson 5 (Domi, Werenski), 10:54. 4, Tampa Bay, Colton 3 (Maroon, Joseph), 14:48. 5, Tampa Bay, Point 15 (Johnson, Palat), 15:54. Penalties—None.
Shots on Goal—Columbus 11-15-13_39. Tampa Bay 15-7-12_34. Power-play opportunities—Columbus 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 1 of 3. Goalies—Columbus, Merzlikins 6-5-2 (34 shots-31 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 21-5-1 (38-36).
A—3,800 (19,092). T—2:28. Referees—Wes McCauley, Jon Mclsaac. Linesmen—Ryan Daisy, Jesse Marquis.
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