Jon Cooper remembered a moment Tuesday when the forwards on the Tampa Bay Lightning’s fourth line looked up at him and asked if they were going over the boards for another shift.
Cooper didn’t hesitate.
“I’m like, ‘[Darn] right you’re going,'” the Lightning coach said. “Trust yourself, and they did, and scored a huge goal for us.”
Ross Colton scored an unassisted goal off a turnover at 9:04 of the third period to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Second Round.
It was the last goal scored in the best-of-7 series, which the Lightning won to advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals.
It was also the signature moment for the line, which has been forging its identity with the speed of Colton and center Tyler Johnson, and power of Pat Maroon, who at 6-foot-3, 238 pounds is known as the “Big Rig.”
“They were huge,” Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev said. “You watch them play, you want to get out there and do the same. ‘Patty’ behind the net, in his office I would call it. He was buzzing out there, getting pucks to the net. Nobody could take the puck away from him. ‘Johnny’ with his speed and Ross with his speed, they would get through the neutral zone really fast. It was fun to watch, and hopefully we see more of that.”
Tampa Bay will play the New York Islanders or Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Semifinals. The Islanders lead that series and could advance with a win in Game 6 at home on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
No matter whom they play next, the Lightning figure to be a tough out if they continue to get the same momentum-changing shifts and important goals from their fourth line as they’ve received the past two games.
Johnson scored the game-tying goal at 17:10 of the second period of Game 4, a 6-4 win. Colton and Maroon had the assists.
“It’s been awesome,” Colton said. “I give a lot of credit to everyone in the lineup, especially ‘Coop,’ who had the confidence to throw us out there tonight in all situations, just rolling four lines. That gives me, Patty and Johnny all the confidence in the world to go out there and make plays. We got rewarded at the end, but we could have had a few other ones throughout the game.”
Prior to Colton’s goal in Game 5, he hit the crossbar at 4:26 of the second period and was set up by Maroon for a Grade A chance from the slot at 6:17 of the third period that went into the pads of Carolina goalie Alex Nedeljkovic.
Maroon also had a chance in front but lost the puck as it rolled up his stick.
Colton scored his goal on three shots in the third period, when he had four shifts totaling 2:59 of ice time. Johnson played 2:56 and Maroon played 2:15 in the third period, with most of that time spent in the offensive zone.
“Johnny was using his speed, he wanted the puck, he was commanding it,” Cooper said. “Patty boy, they call him the Big Rig for a reason, he’s a load to handle down low. When you get into these man-to-man situations, if you win your 1-on-1 battles, that was a big point of emphasis these past few games, to make sure the puck stayed below the goal line as long as we could. Ross, the kid has a shot, he can skate, he’s just a good blend.”
Forward Brayden Point, who scored the first goal in Game 5, said the rest of the Lightning skaters gained extra energy because of what the fourth line was doing.
“They were creating chances for us, going to the net hard, playing good defense and blocking shots, winning the puck down low,” Point said. “Our team definitely fed off that. It takes everyone in the playoffs and everyone has their moments, and tonight they were great. They’ve been great all series, they’ve been great playoffs. Tonight, they get rewarded.”
The reward was another example why the Lightning are winning again in the playoffs, halfway through a run to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.
“We just got outstanding minutes from all four lines,” Cooper said. “That’s how you win. You need everybody to contribute.”