STOCKHOLM — Victor Hedman starred at the Swedish flag, trying to focus and hold off some of the emotion. Hearing his national anthem sung in his native country before an NHL game, and with most of the crowd of 13,230 joining in, he was close to tearing up.
“That’ was probably one of the most special things I’ve experienced as a hockey player,” Hedman said after Friday’s 3-2 win over Buffalo. “The first three shifts were a little off for myself. Once I got settled, I got better.”
This whole experience was emotional for Hedman, just as he knew it would be. He said he was very into the atmosphere and sharing the win with cheering Lightning fans very special.
Answering questions for almost four minutes, Hedman said the word special about six times and added in others like phenomenal and unbelievable.
Getting the win made the game so much better. The experience may be phenomenal but these games count. The Lightning played one of their best games of the season, bringing together the pieces they’ve been talking about.
“We played a pretty complete game,” forward Alex Killorn said. “And we haven’t had that for a big part of the season.”
The Lightning have been taking their game apart to put it back together again. They don’t want a whole new identity — they’re always good to be a fast, skilled team — but to tweak it to add more defensive responsibility.
On Friday, they showed that. Like they have done in the past, the Lightning possessed the puck much of the night. But this wasn’t the kind of offense that covers up your defensive issues. This was offense that came from the defense.
They exited the defensive zone quickly, moving the puck up.
Take the first goal. Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk saw an opportunity to put the Lightning on the rush. He rimmed the puck around the boards hard from behind their own net. It came up to Brayden Point, who carried it into the zone with speed and Nikita Kucherov advancing through the center of the ice. All Point had to do was slide the puck over and Kucherov finished the one-timer.
“That’s a world-class finish,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Great from Shatty to recognize that and wrap that around. Pointer throws that over to him and I have yet to see if that puck hit the ice and Kuch puts it in.”
It was a very Kucherov, and very Lightning goal. That first goal, 3:14 into the game, demonstrated that this team can be dangerous offensively and responsible defensively.
Another side of that is the forecheck, which created Yanni Gourde’s goal in the third period.
Winger Pat Maroon battled behind the net, using his size to wrap the puck around and through goaltender Linus Ullmark’s pads. It popped out to Gourde at the far post and he scored the eventual game-winner on the rebound.
“We chipped the puck in and we were really good on the forecheck,” Gourde said. “That’s something we’ve talked about a lot in the past. Our forecheck is our greatest asset and we have to utilize it”
The other important piece for the Lightning is goaltending. Nothing changes for Andrei Vasilevskiy with the tweaks to the system, but he has been inconsistent just as the team has to start the season. He didn’t have to make too many big saves, the team kept the shots down in front of him, but he turned away 20 of the 22 he saw.
The power play scored on one of its four chances (Killorn tipped Hedman’s shot). The Lightning took three penalties, only two created power plays and they killed off both. The team addressed its issues and did what they’ve talked about.
“It can’t just be one game, though,” Hedman said. “We have to make this a habit.”
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.