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Central Jersey’s Ross Colton gives Tampa 2-0 series lead, dims Giroux’s hopes

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Claude Giroux, Philadelphia Flyers
Former Flyers captain Claude Giroux had another strong game, but Florida fell in the closing seconds to Tampa Bay in Game 2.

Tampa Bay center Ross Colton, the pride of Robbinsville in Central Jersey, is helping to ruin Claude Giroux’s dream of winning a Stanley Cup.

A wide-open Colton scored from the doorstep with 3.8 seconds left, giving Tampa a stunning 2-1 win Thursday over the host Florida Panthers. Colton deposited a one-timer after taking a slick feed from Nikita Kucherov, who was behind the net.

Tampa, the two time-defending Stanley Cup champion, has a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Game 3 is Sunday afternoon in in Tampa.

“The whole year, we’ve been fighting and have found a way to come back from adversity,” said Florida goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, another former Flyer. “This is another test for us.”

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Colton, 25, also had a goal in Game 1 of the series, a closer-than-it-looks 4-1 Tampa win; he has five goals in nine playoff games this season.

The former University of Vermont standout was a fourth-round selection in the 2016 draft — nine picks after the Flyers selected Connor Bunnaman.

Colton had nine goals in 30 regular-season games as a rookie last year, and was a key contributor in the playoffs. This season, he had 22 goals and 39 points in 79 games.

Bunnaman? He went to Florida in the Giroux trade; he had one goal in 54 career games with the Philadelphia Flyers.

Giroux, 34, had an assist on Eetu Luostarinen’s goal with 1:53 left in the second period Thursday, knotting the score at 1-1.

The game appeared headed to overtime before Colton converted seconds before the clock expired.

Florida, which outshot (37-29) and outhit (52-35) the Lightning, again lost because of its ineffective power play. The Cats also had a big edge in blocked shots (24-12) and faceoffs (winning 57%).

The Panthers were 0 for 4 on the power play, while Tampa was 1 for 3. Florida is a head-scratching 0 for 25 in the playoffs, including 0 for 7 in this series.

Giroux, who spent 10 years as the Philadelphia Flyers’ captain, fired eight shots (three on goal) and had an assist and a plus-1 rating Thursday.

Florida was the NHL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season, but it has managed just one goal in each of the first two games against Tampa. Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (36 saves) was outstanding again.

So was Colton, who is hoping to win his second Stanley Cup in his two years in the NHL. Here is a video of Colton bringing the Cup to Robbinsville last year:

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