TAMPA — If there were any doubts about whether Ross Colton could step in for Barclay Goodrow on the Lightning’s third line, he has silenced them in his first playoff series.
The rookie wing has two goals and 10 shots in five games against the Panthers. His speed and grit have fit nicely alongside Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman while Goodrow sits out indefinitely with an upper-body injury.
Colton’s first postseason goal, in a 6-5 overtime loss in Game 3, was arguably one of the most important of his young career. With the Lightning trailing by a goal midway through the second period, Colton tied the score at 2 with a one-timer from the right circle shortly after getting up from his knees.
Colton has been everything the Lightning had hoped and then some.
“I think Ross is one of those players where if you’re outside our organization, you probably didn’t have him on your list as somebody who would be playing as a regular in the playoffs, but within our organization we knew what we had in him,” coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s progressed every single year. ... He definitely has not disappointed.”
Colton’s new linemates agree.
“Ross has been great,” Coleman said. “He’s been a great complement to us.”
Colton has allowed the third line to maintain the gritty identity Coleman, Gourde and Goodrow forged last postseason on their way to hoisting the Stanley Cup. His offensive game, along with being responsible defensively has made Colton “a great add,” Coleman said.
Color analyst and former NHL player Brian Engblom called Colton “refreshing.”
“He’s smart, and he knows what he’s doing,” Engblom said. “He can get the job done.”
Colton also has a “heck of a shot” Engblom said.
“That goal (in Game 3) was fantastic,” the analyst said. “That was just invisible. And he scored one or two others during the regular season where ... I went, ‘Holy mackerel!’ I mean, Stammer (Steven Stamkos) would have been proud of that one.”
Colton lacks Goodrow’s “edge and bite,” Engblom said, which has been part of Goodrow’s identity — especially on the penalty kill — since he joined the team last February. But until he returns, Colton’s chemistry with Gourde and Coleman has sufficed.
“He’s not afraid to get involved,” Engblom said. “He just does it to his level. He doesn’t have Barclay’s experience, either, but he’s been a very nice fit with Barclay being unavailable.”
Colton’s poise has been evident throughout the series. He said he settled in around the 20-game mark in late April, and he finished the regular season with nine goals and 12 points in 30 games. As his confidence grew, he said he felt he could take a few chances, too.
“I felt that I was helping the team win,” Colton said. “I was just trying to play my game.”
Before Goodrow’s injury, Colton centered the fourth line between Pat Maroon and Mathieu Joseph. Despite playing with a different group, he said he could see similarities in their playing styles.
“They both kind of play a fast game,” Colton said. “They like to get pucks in and make it hard for the opposing team’s (defense), so I think to me that kind of translates to my game, as well.”
Though Colton is skating in Goodrow’s spot right now, the Lightning don’t expect him to replace the seventh-year forward, who doesn’t have a timetable for his return. They prefer that Colton stay with his game and add what he can, where he can.
“When you’re jumping into somebody else’s shoes, you’re not that person,” Cooper said. “There are things that Barclay does better than Ross, and there are things that Ross does better than Barclay. ... But you’re not going to be Barclay, but be Ross Colton, and being Ross Colton is definitely going to be good enough, because he’s turned into a player we really like in our lineup.”
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