TAMPA — Even Ross Colton had to look at the replay to see just how Nick Paul was able to go between his legs to get him the puck at the far post.
Colton has been with his new linemates — trade-deadline acquisitions Paul and Brandon Hagel — for just four games, but the chemistry they displayed in the Lightning’s 5-2 win over the Blackhawks on Friday night at Amalie Arena showed that Tampa Bay might have something special in the trio.
Colton scored two goals in the win, the Lightning’s fourth straight, by going to the net. But it was Paul’s feed on Colton’s second goal that brought the fans and players on the Tampa Bay bench to their feet.
With the Lightning up 3-2 and less than eight minutes remaining in the second period, Paul took a pass from defenseman Cal Foote at the bottom of the right circle. As Paul neared the goal line, he spun, facing away, went from forehand to backhand and flicked the puck between his legs across the crease to charging Colton for an easy finish.
“At first I thought (Paul) just kind of spun around and did it on his backhand,” Colton said. “But then (until) watching the replay, I didn’t realize he went through the legs. Unbelievable play by him. It just goes to show what kind of player he is.
“He’s big. He’s physical. He can move extremely well there. But then when he’s throwing passes like that, he almost looks like (Nikita Kucherov) or something out there.”
The third line, which combined for seven points and a plus-9, carried the Lightning (43-18-6). Colton, who also had an assist, came within a few inches of his first career hat trick, just missing an empty-net goal in the final minute before Hagel raced down the ice to put in the rebound with 19 seconds left.
The Hagel-Paul-Colton line not only accounted for three goals, it was the best line in the game. In just 8:58 of 5-on-5 time, it created 10 scoring chances — including eight high-danger chances — and allowed none. Right down to the final minute, when the three were on the ice for 6-on-5 after the Blackhawks pulled their goalie, they played a strong two-way game.
“That was their best game since they’ve been together,” said coach Jon Cooper, who coached his 700th career NHL game. “When you’re trying to find chemistry with a line, it takes some time. I thought they found their stride (Friday). … Either we fell in line with them or they fell in line with us.
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“Everybody was kind of buzzing out there, but they had something going (Friday). It was just their work ethic, and they just were doing a ton of the right things that we preach in our philosophy of playing the game, and they did them all, and they got rewarded for it. So hopefully there’s more of that to come.”
Paul assisted on both of Colton’s goals, as well as Hagel’s empty-netter.
“We have a solid line,” Paul said. “Everyone’s fast; everyone works hard. Everyone’s detailed. But we all have some skill as well. So it’s a nice combination where we can play a good role.
“We’re hard with detail, hard on the forecheck, we can create turnovers. But when we get that puck, we can also make plays. So I really like the line. We’re really starting to click the last couple of games.”
The Lightning went into the second period tied at 2 after jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first 10:12.
Steven Stamkos opened the scoring 6:11 in. Kucherov backhanded the puck from the corner to the right circle to Brayden Point, who sent a blind, backhand pass across to Stamkos in the opposite circle.
Just over four minutes later, Kucherov faked a slap shot from the right circle and tapped the puck to Point in the slot. Point snuck a shot past goaltender Kevin Lankinen.
The game was Hagel’s first against his former team since being traded near the deadline and the first that former Lightning forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh played against Tampa Bay since being part of the Hagel deal. Neither Katchouk nor Raddysh had a point.
Former Lightning forward Tyler Johnson received a standing ovation from the crowd following a tribute video timed to Johnson’s first game back in Tampa after eight-plus seasons with the Lightning and two Stanley Cup championships. He was traded to Chicago in July for salary cap reasons. He finished without a point.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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