TAMPA — Tyler Johnson couldn't pick.
The Lightning center, asked for his favorite Victor Hedman assist, rattled off a few.
There was Hedman's pass to set up Johnson's winner in overtime of Game 4 of Tampa Bay's first-round playoff series with Detroit in 2015. But Johnson was quick to point out his last-second winner against Montreal in Game 3 of the second round that year.
"I would venture to say (Hedman) has assisted on quite a few of my goals throughout the years," Johnson said.
He isn't alone. Hedman set a franchise record in Thursday's win against the Islanders for most career assists by a defenseman, 177. Think of the most memorable Lightning goals the past few years, and Hedman has likely played a part in them. What makes Hedman one of the most skilled setup defensemen in the league? His teammates break it down.
Alex Killorn didn't think Hedman even saw him Oct. 27 in Montreal.
As Killorn darted into traffic in front of the Canadiens' net, Hedman sent a slap pass from the left point. Killorn redirected it in to give the Lightning a one-goal lead.
"He's really able to see some opening that I don't think a lot of guys are aware of," Johnson said. "He's able to find those passing lanes and make those plays."
The Lightning had already pulled off a remarkable third-period comeback against the Red Wings to force overtime in Game 4 of their playoff series in 2015. And Hedman helped finish it off. His speed through the neutral zone created an odd-man rush. He waited until the last moment before flipping a backhand pass off goalie Petr Mrazek and onto the stick of Johnson, who scored.
"What really separates him is his skating ability," Johnson said. "He moves into the right position because he has that quickness, that speed. And being a big guy (6 feet 6) with the long strides, he gets up and down the ice and makes things happen."
Hedman stood near the backboards and surveyed his options. It was Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final in 2015 against the Blackhawks, and Hedman didn't go for a simple breakout pass.
He fired a slap stretch pass off the right boards toward the Chicago blue line, where Ryan Callahan picked up the puck and scored the opening goal off a rush. Hedman is at his best passing from his zone, fueling the rush.
Said Johnson: "A lot of (defensemen) look for maybe that simple pass right away, not looking for those home runs. He has the skill and talent level to do that."
Steven Stamkos called it one of the best shots of his career, at least by degree of difficulty. In the waning seconds Oct. 18 against Florida, Stamkos corralled a one-timer from below the left circle and scored to force overtime. But Stamkos said it might not have happened had Hedman not made the perfect feed.
"Not too hard, not too soft," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "It's an instinct that takes over. You've got to know exactly what speed to put on it and exactly where to put it, and Victor has that."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 8 (Johnson, Namestnikov), 8:03 (pp). 2, Tampa Bay, Kucherov 5 (Hedman, Stamkos), 11:00. Penalties—Tavares, NYI, (elbowing), 6:38; Lee, NYI, (cross checking), 13:15; Ladd, NYI, (high sticking), 16:39.
Second Period—3, Tampa Bay, Johnson 5 (Palat, Stamkos), 2:50 (pp). 4, N.Y. Islanders, Ladd 2 (Boychuk), 8:04. Penalties—De haan, NYI, (interference), 2:17; De haan, NYI, (holding), 9:49; Hedman, TB, (tripping), 16:41.
Third Period—5, Tampa Bay, Boyle 4 (Paquette), 1:08. Penalties—Lee, NYI, (high sticking), 5:41. Shots on Goal—N.Y. Islanders 9-16-7—32. Tampa Bay 10-7-11—28. Power-play opportunities—N.Y. Islanders 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 2 of 6. Goalies—N.Y. Islanders, Halak 3-4-2 (16 shots-13 saves), Greiss 2-3-0 (12-11). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 3-1-1 (32-31).