TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Ian Cole isn’t known for his scoring. He has scored only 30 goals over his 13-season NHL career. But at every stop, he has added dependability and versatility, and in Tuesday’s 5-4 overtime win against Dallas, Tampa Bay needed scoring punch from him.
For the second straight game, Cole — who has been the Lightning’s third left-side defenseman — played on the right side of the first pair alongside Victor Hedman, a role he has filled with right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak injured.
Tuesday’s game produced the first goal and multipoint game with Tampa Bay for Cole, who signed as a free agent in the offseason. He gave the Lightning a 4-3 lead after jumping in on the play just under four minutes into the third period. He also had the primary assist on Steven Stamkos’ second-period goal.
“He can make plays out there,” Stamkos said. “You just think of him as more of a shutdown-type of guy with the amount of times you play against them. He’s hard, and he blocked shots, but in time and space, obviously, he’s made some great plays and made a great pass to me and then some great hands on the goal. Great patience there.
“Anytime guys come to a new team, it takes some time to get comfortable, and then guys start to find their game a little bit, and I think that’s been the case. He’s found his game here in the last couple of weeks, and it’s been impressive.”
Cole has three points over his last three games after tallying just one in his first 10. He has also been steady in his end, with 11 blocked shots and a plus-2 rating over that same three-game stretch.
On his goal, the Lightning cycled the puck back to the left point in the offensive zone, and when Hedman reared back for a one-timer from just inside the blue line, Cole headed to the right side of the net in search of a rebound.
Forward Alex Killorn, who had been setting a screen in front, jumped to let the puck through, and Dallas goaltender Jake Oettinger stopped Hedman’s shot. But Lightning forward Nick Paul kicked the puck to Cole, who tucked it inside the post, past Oettinger’s extended left leg.
“Might have blacked out a little bit, I’m not really sure what happened,” Cole said of his first regular-season goal in 52 games. “I don’t know. I just had a little bit of space. (Oettinger) kind of slid, and I was like, ‘Oh, it’s open.’ And I saw guys coming to the far post, so I figured I wasn’t really getting around there. So, let’s try to tuck it quick, and it worked.”
When the Lightning signed Cole, they saw him as a player who could fill some of the roles left by the trade of left-shot defenseman Ryan McDonagh as a lockdown, stay-at-home defenseman and penalty killer.
But in a system that encourages its defensemen to jump into the offense, Cole is finding his spots.
“You’re often seeing Cole block a shot or something like that,” coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s more of his contribution in the game. You don’t usually see him with the hands and scoring the big goal like he did. So the guys were pretty fired up for him when he scored, but you need (that).”
Despite playing on his weak side next to a free roamer like Hedman, Cole has been a good fit. He has played on the right side before and made a quick adjustment. Whether he stays there remains to be seen.
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“It’s not more or less difficult,” Cole said. “There’s just different instances that are a little bit harder, (being) pinned against the board in the offensive blue line on your backhand or deep in the corner on your backhand.
“But then again, there’s the positives, being on your one-time side in the (offensive) zone and always being open for pucks (defenseman to defenseman) and stuff on your forehand, kind of seeing the whole ice.
“So, there are positives and negatives, and I think once you do it enough, you’ll learn what plays work and what plays don’t, and just kind of try to weed out the plays that don’t and stick to the ones that do work.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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