Sunday, June 24, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Victor Hedman plays big minutes for Lightning

TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman played nearly half of Wednesday's Game 1, just shy of 30 minutes.

And he loved it.

"It's no secret I want to play more," he said.

Hedman, 25, showed why in a dominating performance in a 3-2 Lightning victory over the Red Wings. The 6-foot-6 Swede was arguably the best player on the ice, doing everything a team expects from a No. 1 defenseman. He saved a goal, sweeping a loose puck from the crease. He thwarted a 2-on-1. He scored what would have been the winner, an absolute rocket of a shot in the third period, negated only because of a coaches challenge and offsides call on Jonathan Drouin.

"Probably the best shot I've had in my life," Hedman quipped.

It looked a lot like the Hedman of last season's playoffs, when he had a Conn Smythe-caliber performance, a force at both ends. And without his injured partner and fellow Swede Anton Stralman (fractured left leg), Hedman wants to elevate his game.

"I don't mind the pressure at all," Hedman said. "I want to be the guy that leads from back there. I don't shy away from that."

Hedman might not play 30 minutes or more each game, like the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith did in last year's Stanley Cup-winning run. During the regular season, Hedman's minutes are managed, from 21-25 (a 23:04 average that's second highest in his career), partly from the fact the Lightning plays seven defensemen often and Hedman wasn't always on the power play.

But now, the limitations are off.

"We didn't overburden (Hedman) during the season," associate coach Rick Bowness said. "I have no worries about playing him as many minutes as he played (Wednesday)."

Hedman has proved he can handle it. There was his stifling of a 2-on-1 early in the third period, aggressively thwarting not one, but two, passes by Andreas Athanasiou to Mike Green. One with his stick, another with his glove. "You just try to make a read, see where his eyes are," Hedman said. "If they are up, or he looks down at the puck, it's more like green light to go."

Lightning television color analyst Brian Engblom, a former Stanley Cup winning defenseman, said he hasn't seen an approach like Hedman's since Chris Chelios.

"The kid never saw that coming," Englblom said. "Nobody plays like that in a 2-on-1. Most guys would have backed up. But he got across and ate him up."

Then came Hedman's non-goal. In the third period, Hedman started a rush and finished it with a blast from the top right circle, beating Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard over his shoulder. "Perfect shot," Bowness said.

"He's just really hard to contain when he's got the engine going," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's a big plus for us."

It's the kind of 200-foot game Hedman prides himself on, and hasn't changed since losing his trusted partner in Stralman. Veteran Matt Carle has stepped in and played his best hockey of the season, Bowness said.

"You don't want him trying to be Anton Stralman, you need him to be Victor Hedman," Engblom said. "Because he does a lot of things Stralman can't do. Stralman does it differently, more traditional. Hedman is not a traditional defenseman, which is good, which makes him great."

Hedman had a solid season, his 37 assists leading the Lightning, which dropped from first in scoring to 12th. Hedman's plus-21 rating was the best. But he won't likely be a Norris Trophy finalist.

"He wants to be the best player on the ice," Bowness said. "And he knows that he's never going to be satisfied."

Except for if Hedman lifts the Lightning to a Stanley Cup with another dynamic postseason. Cooper said that as Hedman goes, his team goes.

"In the playoffs, you want to rise your game to another level," Hedman said. "You can tell the intensity and everything is a different ballgame. Nothing is the same. It's going to be a long stretch, lot of ups and downs, but this is the most fun part of the year."

Contact Joe Smith at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

 
Comments
Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

Former Mitchell High player Nathan Smith taken in NHL draft by Jets

It's rare to see an NHL draft pick with Tampa Bay ties, but the Jets used a third-round pick Saturday on center Nathan Smith, 19, who played for Mitchell High School in Trinity and most recently for the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL.Smith was ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Report: Lightning to talk to John Tavares during free-agent courting period

Despite limited salary-cap room, the Lightning is among at least five teams expected to talk with Islanders All-Star center John Tavares, who can be a free agent July 1, when the courting period begins Sunday, ESPN reported.Tavares also is expected t...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Another small, quick forward headlines Lightning’s draft picks

Even without a first-round pick, the Lightning wrapped up its draft with seven picks Saturday, starting with Gabriel Fortier, an undersized 18-year-old forward from Quebec in the second round."They were guys that we really wanted," Lightning director...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

Lightning takes Quebec LW Gabriel Fortier with second-round pick

The Lightning is on the board in the 2018 NHL draft, using their first pick — 59th overall in the second round — on Gabriel Fortier, an undersize left wing from Quebec."I spoke with them a couple of times, so I knew there was an interest,...
Published: 06/23/18
Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

Live blog: 2018 NHL entry draft

The Lightning isn't scheduled to pick until the second round, but there's no telling how active they might be with trades, so you'll want to follow our live coverage throughout the NHL draft Friday (Round 1) and Saturday (Rounds 2-7) in Dallas.(funct...
Published: 06/23/18
Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

Lightning re-signs backup goalie Louis Domingue to 2-year deal

The Lightning has re-signed one of its restricted free agents in backup goalie Louis Domingue, who will be back with Tampa Bay on a two-year deal worth $2.3 million.Domingue, 26, was acquired from Arizona in November after he had posted a 4.33 goals-...
Published: 06/22/18
Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

Lightning names ex-player Jeff Halpern as new assistant coach

The Lightning has filled one of the openings on Jon Cooper's coaching staff, announcing Friday  that former Tampa Bay forward Jeff Halpern has been hired as an assistant coach.Halpern, 42, has spent the past two seasons as an assistant with the ...
Published: 06/22/18
Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

Steve Yzerman: Lightning won’t re-sign forward Chris Kunitz

As expected, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said he does not intend to re-sign veteran forward Chris Kunitz, who will seek his fifth Stanley Cup with a different team next season.Kunitz, 38, brought much-needed playoff experience in his lone...
Published: 06/22/18
2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

2018-19 schedule unveiled: Lightning opens with five straight at home

NHL schedules all balance out at the end, but the Lightning will open 2018-19 with five straight home games and end the season with its last four on the road.The Lightning released its schedule Thursday evening for the upcoming season, with all sorts...
Published: 06/21/18
Updated: 06/22/18
Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

Without a first-rounder, Lightning still could have busy draft weekend

The Lightning doesn't have a first-round pick in this weekend's draft, but that's not to say the weekend couldn't be busy for general manager Steve Yzerman and his front office.The Lightning sent its top draft pick to the Rangers in February as part ...
Published: 06/21/18