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Art of the block: Get in the way of the puck. Expect pain.

Lightning defensemen Victor Hedman and Dan Girardi talk about blocking shots.
Tyler Johnson reacts after blocking a shot by San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic in December. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Tyler Johnson reacts after blocking a shot by San Jose's Marc-Edouard Vlasic in December. (DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times)
Published Apr. 25, 2018

BRANDON — The welts and the bruises and — yes, even the broken bones — they are the badges given this time of year to the hearty souls who, in hockey vernacular, sacrifice the body.

They are awarded to the guys who knock aside wrist shots with their shins and block slapshots with their knees.

"Part of winning in the playoffs is sacrificing your body and blocking shots," said Victor Hedman, who tied fellow defensemen Anton Stralman and Ryan McDonagh for a team-high seven during the first-round playoff series with the Devils.

"It's a real morale booster when you see guys step up and block a shot," said defenseman Dan Girardi, who led the Lightning with 155 blocked shots during the regular season.

McDonagh, who joined the Lightning after the trade deadline, blocked 163 during the regular season.

McDonagh and Girardi were the only Tampa Bay players in the top 50 in the league this season in blocked shots.

Coaches want their offense to generate as many shots on net as possible. Conversely, they want their defense to limit as many shots as possible.

"You hear every coach in the league say we need more traffic at the net," Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. "Well, when they're going to the net so are we. When we're there, we're blocking shots."

There is an art to blocking a shot. It is more than just throwing a body part at a frozen puck that could be traveling as fast as 100 mph.

Step No. 1: Know where the net is.

Step No. 2: Get between the net and the guy with the puck.

Step No. 3: Face the guy with the puck to increase the chances of it hitting a part of the body that is protected by a thin piece of plastic.

"You just got to be in the right place, right time," Girardi said. "You got to be willing to get in the way of the shot. That's No. 1. Not think about it, just get in the lane. It might hurt. Might not hurt."

Okay, revise the previous list. Place "willing to get hit with a speeding puck" at the top, because if a player is not willing, the other items do not matter.
Assuming there is a check in every box, the rest is simple.

"You have to make yourself as big as possible in the shooting lane, be as close (to the puck) as you can, as well," Hedman said. "There's really no magic to it. It's a mental part of the game. You know it's going to hurt, but you know it's going to benefit the team."

Momentum in playoff games has swung on a blocked shot. The team doing the blocking gets a lift, while the player who had his shot blocked skates on, muttering to himself.

"It's not fun," center Yanni Gourde said. "You think you have a lane to shoot at it, you're taking your stride, your shot, and all of a sudden there's a stick in your lane or a body and you go, 'Where did that guy come from? It was wide open.' "

Gourde said having a shot blocked or facing a team adept at blocking shots can mess with his confidence.

"It does, for sure," Gourde said. "It messes with your momentum. You second guess yourself. 'Is he going to get in the lane now? Am I going to have a free lane? Do I have time? Do I not have time?' The best way to work against that is get your shot off right away."

Less heroic, though just as valuable, are shots blocked with the stick.

Hedman, with his long arms and long reach, is good at reaching the puck with his blade and deflecting it up into the protective netting above the glass for a faceoff or into the corners for a battle.

"That's also a blocked shot, but it doesn't hurt as much," said Hedman, who missed 18 games early in the 2014-2015 season after breaking a finger blocking a shot.

There have been some memorable injuries suffered during the postseason by shot blockers.

Greg Campbell of the Bruins broke his right fibula while blocking a shot by the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin during Game 3 of the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals. Campbell finished his shift, by the way.

Ian Laperriere of the Flyers suffered a concussion and a fractured right orbital bone when he dived to block a shot by Paul Martin of the Devils in 2010. Though the injury ultimately ended his career, Laperriere did return that spring for the Stanley Cup Finals.

Of course, no player thinks of the consequences when he aligns himself in the line of a fired puck.

"Just hope it hits you on the pads," Girardi said. "It's going to sting a little bit. You ice it. After the game you're a little sore, but it's worth it if you get the win."

Contact Roger Mooney at rmooney@tampabay.com. Follow @rogermooney50.