TAMPA — It’s Ross Colton’s first time in the NHL playoffs, but from the outside looking in it doesn’t look like his first go-round.
The rookie forward has four points (three goals, one assist) through 11 postseason games and has proven to be a key contributor at times on the Lightning’s third and fourth lines.
It hasn’t been a complete surprise. At the start of the team’s playoff run, coach Jon Cooper said Colton “definitely has not disappointed” with nine goals and three assists in his 30 regular-season games.
His offensive abilities were on full display during the Lightning’s second-round, series-clinching win over the Hurricanes Tuesday in Raleigh, N.C.
Colton, who skated alongside veterans Pat Maroon and Tyler Johnson on the team’s fourth line, netted an insurance goal in the third period of the team’s 2-0 win. It was just the latest example of how Colton doesn’t let his experience, or lack thereof, show on the ice.
Colton repeatedly has helped the Lightning through injuries — Nikita Kucherov missing all 56 games and captain Steven Stamkos the last 16 of the regular season — and come up big in important moments, even in the postseason.
“When you have these injuries you need guys to step in, and Ross has been able to play multiple positions for us,” Cooper said. “And as he was growing, you have to have faith in your players and players have to have faith in themselves, and as a coaching staff we have to have faith in them.”
Colton is one of two players in the Lightning lineup who has never made it this far in the postseason (the other being defenseman David Savard, who did not make it past the second round during 10 years in Columbus).
It helps when you’re surrounded by 18 teammates who won the Stanley Cup a year ago and you skate on a line with a back-to-back champion (Maroon, who also won with St. Louis in 2018-19).
“It’s been awesome, and I give a lot of credit to everyone in the lineup,” said Colton, 24. “Especially Coop, who had the confidence to throw (our line) out there in all situations, kind of just rolling all four lines, and that gives, I think, me, Patty and Johnny all the confidence in the world to go out there and make plays, and I think we got rewarded there at the end.”
Colton had three shots on goal during his 7 minutes, 50 seconds on the ice Tuesday. His confidence was on full display about halfway through the third period as he scored the Lightning’s second goal.
Colton skated down the right side toward goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic. He looked like he was going to pass back to Johnson, but instead took a quick shot, fooling defenseman Brett Pesce.
It was a move no one anticipated and gave the Lightning a bit of a cushion as they closed out the second-round series.
But it wasn’t Colton’s only look. Just minutes before his goal, Colton had a couple of chances from in front of the net that Nedeljkovic stopped, causing Colton and his linemates to review the sequence on tablets on the Lightning bench.
Late in the second period, he pinged a shot off the crossbar during a 2-on-1 with Johnson.
It’s that kind of relentless effort that has grabbed the eyes of his coaches and teammates.
“The kid’s got a shot,” Cooper said. “He can skate, he’s just a good (player), and that line, I think they were trying to find an identity and I think they found it. It was a matchup game early and I didn’t really care about the matchups (later), and there was one time they looked at me, saying, ‘Are we going?’ and I’m like, ‘Damn right you’re going.’ Trust yourself, and they did, and they scored a huge goal for us.”
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