TAMPA — The puck, Victor Hedman said, seemed to be coming straight at his face.
So, the Lightning defenseman, in front of the net Tuesday against the Canadiens, put his stick up in self-defense. Then, the puck was in the net and Hedman had his second goal of the game.
"Luckily," Hedman said Wednesday, "it went off my stick."
Sometimes, though, one makes his own luck. In Hedman's case, he was in the right place at the right time, exactly where the big Swede has put himself all season.
"He's a horse out there," coach Guy Boucher said.
We have heard this before about Hedman, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft, whenever he shows flashes of brilliance. But this season seems different.
At 22 and in his fourth season, the 6-foot-6, 238-pounder has firmly established his game — steady, even dominating, on defense and smartly opportunistic on offense.
Averaging 22:38 of ice time and with a team-best 26 blocked shots, Hedman entered Wednesday tied for second in the league lead at plus-10. His four goals were tied for third on the team and led Tampa Bay's defensemen, whose combined 11 goals entered Wednesday most in the league and only eight fewer than the blue line contributed all last season.
"It's as high as it's been," Hedman said of his confidence. "I know I can do the job in both ends of the ice. I don't make those rookie mistakes anymore. I want to keep building on that, use my feet, use my speed and keep going."
During the summer, Hedman worked with noted Swedish coach Mats Emanuelsson on, as Hedman explained, "how to move your feet with your head up at the same time."
During the lockout, he played 26 games in Kazakhstan for Astana Barys of Russia's Kontinental Hockey League, where he was named an All-Star.
Playing in Tampa Bay with defensive partner Sami Salo, 38, provides a comfort zone that surely will be tested tonight against Alex Ovechkin's Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"We read off each other well," Hedman said. "If he's up, I'm staying back, and vice versa. We just keep talking the game. When you do the little things right, you get success.
"A very good player, skates well, plays hard," Salo said. "He sees the ice and makes a good first pass. The key, obviously, is he joins the rush all the time."
In the 4-3 shootout loss to the Canadiens, Hedman went to the net to convert Tom Pyatt's pass with 5:56 left in the third period. He also scored with 1:43 left while warding off Teddy Purcell's shot at his face.
When Salo scored with 43.3 seconds left, the Lightning had erased a three-goal deficit to force overtime.
" 'Heddy' (has) always had that jump. He's always had that speed," Boucher said. "Right now he's improved his vision and his poise with the puck. He's going to make mistakes, but his ratio now of positive stuff to negative is really impressive."
Asked if Hedman reminded him of players current or past, Boucher said, "He needs to be himself. Let's just let him develop. We're very happy with what he's doing."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]