Saturday, December 16, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning defense pressured to fill bigger void with Victor Hedman out with concussion

TAMPA — There's no doubt D Victor Hedman's indefinite absence due to a concussion leaves a big void on the Lightning blue line. But that doesn't mean it is insurmountable. The other defensemen have stepped up to pick up the slack in the past two games, both wins.

"It's a huge (loss), and I think players are answering with their actions," coach Guy Boucher said. "Certainly we don't want 'Heddy' to feel that he's let down the team. It's something other teams … fight through. We've been known to have a lot of character and fight through adversity. That's what we've done since the beginning of the year."

With Hedman out and Mattias Ohlund (knees) yet to play this season, it means expanded roles for several defensemen. Pavel Kubina has joined Eric Brewer in the top pairing, and he logged a season high in minutes Tuesday against the Flyers, 27:44.

"His game has been getting better and better, I'd say, the past three weeks," Boucher said.

Bruno Gervais, who has played in 16 of the Lightning's 37 games, will get more regular duty, as will Marc-Andre Bergeron, combining with Brett Clark and Matt Gilroy.

"As a hockey player, you want to be out there, you want to be on the ice," Bergeron said. "It's fun when you have a chance to play a little bit more. We just take advantage of it and make the best of it."

DOWN LOW: RW Steve Downie, coming off a career-high three-point night Saturday in a 5-2 win over the Hurricanes, has seven points in his past three games. Boucher said it's a product of Downie's work in practice, which has been impressive recently.

"He's preparing extremely well for his games because he's intense in practice, and he's one of our more intense guys in practice," Boucher said. "And that wasn't always the case. He's just getting what he deserves. If he keeps working hard like that, the details of the game and the habits, they become second nature, and that's what's happening right now. He's staying focused on the game, and it pays off."

SECRET WEAPON: The Lightning was given Sunday off, its second day off in three days. Boucher gave the team off Friday, the day after it beat the Canadiens 4-3, as a "bargain," hoping his mantra of "rest is a weapon" would lead to a better start Saturday.

"My side of the bargain was, 'I'm going to give you a day off, but if you want to dance, you have to pay the fiddler, and the next day we better have some legs.' And we were flying (Saturday). We're going to remember that. Of course, with two minutes left, players were (saying), 'Rest is a weapon.' That was my words. They come back at me."

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