Colton’s Goal Lifts Lightning Past Blackhawks

TAMPA — Like the many streaks of lightning that were splitting the sky outside Amalie Arena, Ross Colton shot through the middle of the Blackhawks defense and buried the game-winning goal in a 4-2 Lightning win Thursday evening.

Colton’s second-career goal, in his fifth game, came at 5:32 of the third period to give the Bolts a 3-2 lead. The 24-year-old took a gorgeous pass from Mathieu Joseph and after outracing three Blackhawks faked a backhand before stuffing the puck inside the left post past goalie Kevin Lankinen.

“I didn’t have much time to think about it and at the last second I saw the goalie bite,” said Colton. “Luckily it went in. It made it a little more special that we got the win.”

Coach Jon Cooper noted the fourth line does not have a natural center, but Colton has done an admirable job of fulfilling that role between Joseph and Pat Maroon.

“Ross has come into that spot and checked all the boxes,” he said. “He shows he has an extra gear as you saw on that third goal.”

With Lankinen on the bench and Chicago pressing to knot the score in the game’s final minute, Victor Hedman blocked a shot and fired the puck down the ice into an empty cage with 16 seconds remaining. That iced Tampa Bay’s 21st victory (44 points) and gave them sole possession of first place in the Central Division.

The win was Andrei Vasilevskiy’s tenth straight, matching his career high established twice previously. Louie Domingue holds the team mark with 11 straight that stretched from November 2018 to February 2019. The victory also kept Vasilevskiy perfect in his career against Chicago at 9-0-0.

“I don’t think I played my best game the last two or three (games), but we got the “W” tonight,” he said.

Vasilevskiy faced only 21 shots, but he was called upon to make a number of big saves. None was bigger than a right pad stop on Brandon Hagel with six minutes to play in the second period. Hagel, stationed to Vasilevskiy’s right, attempted to redirect a Dominik Kubalik feed past the 28-year-old goalie.

The Lightning are at Amalie for a pair of games this weekend with a second straight encounter with the Blackhawks on Saturday followed by the Panthers on Sunday. Both games are 4:00.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.