Lightning, Colton powered up to return to Cup final

TRENTON, New Jersey — Ross Colton says there’s a sense of excitement around the Tampa Bay Lightning heading into training camp.

Although their bid for a third straight Stanley Cup championship was overturned by the Colorado Avalanche in the Stanley Cup Finals, the 25-year-old forward says he wants more.

“They win that first [in 2020] and one term that was thrown around was like, “Oh, we’re not full yet,” Colton said. , there is excitement again, the guys want to win again, we go out and win again. And then the same with this year.

“I think guys when you get to training camp there’s a lot of nerves, because every night we have the target behind our backs, the teams want to beat us. I think it’s that excitement And then just being able to go to the final shows again that we are still in contention and that we are not satisfied.”

The Lightning are trying to become the first team to reach the Finals in four straight seasons since the New York Islanders did so five straight (1980-84).

Colton hopes to play an increased role in that quest, perhaps filling the front-six spot left open when Ondrej Palat signed with the New Jersey Devils.

“Obviously he did so much for the team offensively, defensively he was physical,” Colton said. “If we needed a big goal he was going to score it. So obviously it’s a big loss. But I’ve had a great summer and I’m looking forward to this year. … Everything I can do to step up my role a bit from last year, I’m ready to do that.”

Video: [email protected], GM2: Colton and Kucherov connect for a late goal

Last season, his first full season in the NHL, Colton had 39 points (22 goals, 17 assists) in 79 regular season games and nine points (five goals, four assists) in 23 Stanley Cup Playoff games. .

Colton also gained a reputation as a clutch player. He scored the game-winning Stanley Cup goal in the Lightning’s 1-0 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the 2021 Finals. Then he scored two game-winning goals in the playoffs last season, including one with 3.8 seconds left in a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 of Round 2 at FLA Live Arena, a series the Lightning won in four games.

Despite his success last season, Colton still sees areas where he can improve, especially if he wants to slip into the versatile role played by Palat.

“He just becomes a more complete player,” Colton said. “I can’t go back on the success I had last season. Obviously I was happy with what I did, but I was disappointed with the result we had. So obviously it there is still more on which I can rely, whether it is on my defensive game work, winning confrontations.

“It’s such a quick game that you have to be able to play in all three zones. … Speaking of the ‘Pally’ situation, he was playing against some top guys. To be able to play against those guys on the night in and going out at night takes a lot of time. I could definitely improve in those areas.

Colton worked on his game while spending the summer with his family and friends in New Jersey. He even managed to throw the first pitch in a game for the Trenton Thunder, who play in the MLB Draft League.

Colton played baseball and hockey until his junior year of high school when he chose to play hockey full time.

It certainly turned out to be a good decision for him. And with his game continuing to improve, that could earn Colton another contract with the Lightning.

He is in the final season of a two-year, $2.25 million contract (average annual value of $1.125 million) and can become a restricted free agent after the season.

Forward Antoine Cirelli and defenders Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak each signed an extension with the Lightning on July 13, and Colton hopes his turn will come soon, saying he would like to spend his entire NHL career with Tampa Bay.

“I understand it’s a business,” he said. “We have such a good team and the guys deserve to be paid and we are going to face the [NHL salary] cap every season. I understand the business side of it, but I don’t like to get too interested or upset.

“I think if I come to play my game it will speak for itself. Obviously I want to stay in Tampa forever, I think it’s definitely the best place to play in the NHL. But whatever it happens, I want to do what’s best for me and my family.”

Robert M. Larson