Sunday, December 17, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning's Hedman bounces back with strong game

TAMPA — Victor Hedman was in so much pain on the Lightning bench during the third period of Thursday's game with the Blackhawks, there was concern he would not continue playing.

The defenseman, who took a Patrick Sharp shot off his right foot, needed help standing up.

But after walking in the hallway connecting the bench and the locker room to, as he said, "get the blood flow back," Hedman returned after missing just one shift to finish a game in which he had a huge impact.

Hedman had a goal, two points and four blocked shots, and was plus-2 with 21:47 of ice time in Tampa Bay's 6-5 overtime win over last season's Stanley Cup champions.

After waiting five days for a chance at redemption for being minus-5 in a 5-0 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 19, the result couldn't have been more satisfying.

"You want to bounce back, and you want to bounce back big after a tough game like that," Hedman said Friday. "I had a few days between games, so I had to wrap my head around it and work hard in practice. I didn't lose confidence in myself for that one game, but it's a nice feeling to bounce back, get a win and create some plays."

Most dramatic was his goal with 8:57 left in the third period that tied the score 4-4. Hedman took a pass on the right wing from Marty St. Louis, carried the puck to the net and pushed it under goalie Nikolai Khabi­bulin.

Even better, coach Jon Cooper said, was a smaller moment when Hedman, with the puck behind the Lightning net, was caught a bit flat-footed by Chicago's Jonathan Toews.

"Yet, by the time they got to the blue line, 'Heddy' was four strides ahead of him," Cooper said. "It was great to see that. When he plays with confidence, he's fun to watch."

That Hedman played his best after he was hurt said a lot, too.

"We tell our guys there's a difference between being injured and hurt," said Cooper, who replayed this exchange he had with Hedman on the bench:

"I said, 'Heddy, can you contribute to help us win?' He was 'absolutely.' You have to love that in a player."

"It would take a lot to keep you out of a game like that," said Hedman, who did not practice Friday but is expected to play tonight at the Times Forum against the Sabres. "It took some time for me to get moving again, but once I got moving, I was good to go."

Hedman, 22, has played well this season, with a goal and five points in nine games and an average 20:09 of ice time.

His 11 takeaways entered Friday tied for second among league blue-liners. And his minus-5 against Boston? A dead issue.

"Whenever you have a bad game, you want to see how a guy bounces back," goalie Ben Bishop said. "When he comes back like that, he shows everybody what he's capable of."

"You have to understand his age," Cooper said. "He's going to make mistakes, like everybody else. But he works at his game. He can have those rare games when he's minus-5 and go out the next night and be a major contributing factor in beating the defending champs.

"You've got to love that."

Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]

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