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Stralman-Hedman bring Lightning-born chemistry to Sweden in World Cup

Published Sep. 19, 2016

TORONTO — Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are nearly inseparable on the ice, the two Swedes anchoring the Lightning's top defensive pairing the past couple of seasons.

So it is fitting that Hedman and Stralman, partners again for Sweden in the World Cup of Hockey, have adjacent rooms in their Toronto hotel.

Stralman, 30, took advantage of that Sunday morning, popping by to razz Hedman, 25, a huge Manchester United soccer fan, about the club's 3-1 loss to Watford.

"That fueled my energy for this game," Hedman said, grinning.

It worked wonders. Hedman had a monster 22-minute performance, including scoring what turned out to be the winner, to lift Sweden to a 2-1 victory over Russia in their tournament opener at the Air Canada Center.

"It's an unreal feeling," Hedman said.

It's one Hedman had never had before. Having been snubbed by Sweden for the 2014 Olympics, Hedman, like Stralman, is relishing his first chance at best-on-best hockey on the biggest stage. Hedman last wore his country's jersey at the 2012 World Championships, Stralman at the 2009 worlds.

"It's always been my biggest dream, to represent my country," Stralman said.

The two are key cogs on a loaded blue line, which shut out the high-powered Russians for 59 minutes, 33 seconds. That kind of defense is why the Swedes are considered formidable championship contenders, even against the heavily favored Canadians.

It was Stralman who helped thwart Alex Ovechkin's tying goal with seven seconds left in the game. Ovechkin, who had pulled Russia within 2-1 with 33 seconds to go, swatted a loose puck with his glove near the left post. But Stralman managed to impede Ovechkin enough so this generation's top goal scorer couldn't get his stick on the puck before it went in. The goal was overturned on review.

"I wasn't worried," Stralman said.

Stralman is feeling, and looking, like his old self. He admits he wasn't at his best in last season's Stanley Cup playoffs, when he returned from a broken leg for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. Stralman was minus-2 in six games as the Lightning lost in seven to the Penguins.

"My leg was still broken," Stralman said. "It wasn't great. It was solid enough to play with, but it's always hard. You miss two months and jump into a conference finals, it's not an easy task. Given the circumstances, I gave it all I had."

The Lightning gave Hedman an eight-year, $63 million contract extension July 1. He wasted no time in signing the first day he was eligible for the extension, one year from unrestricted free agency. Hedman, unlike fellow Lightning cornerstone Steven Stamkos last season, won't have to deal with lingering contract questions this season.

That peace of mind should help Hedman propel even further into the conversation as one of the league's top defensemen; he was sixth in the Norris Trophy voting last season. Sunday provided yet another reminder why.

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"Hedman is as horse. You saw it (Sunday)," Sweden coach Rickard Gronborg said. "He played all kinds of situations, and now I know why he's so highly regarded. I knew that before, but now he's proven to everyone back at home in Sweden that this is how good he is."

Contact Joe Smith at joesmith@tampabay.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.