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Lightning’s ‘Distant Thunder’ fan from Bali visits Tampa

More Slap Shots | Victor Hedman is playing a lot of minutes. The Lightning are back in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.
Distant Thunder fan Eva Cervenkova fist bumps Nikita Kucherov before the Lightning's game against the Flyers on Saturday. [KEIR MAGOULAS | Courtesy of Visit Tampa Bay]

Eva Cervenkova starts her day with the Lightning. While North American Lightning fans watch games at night, before going to bed, Cervenkova watches over breakfast in Bali, Indonesia, which is 13 hours ahead of Tampa.

Cervenkova is the team’s featured member of the Distant Thunder, which showcases fans around the world, and she got to experience her first regular-season Lightning game Saturday.

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The 2004 Stanley Cup win put the Lightning on Cervenkova’s radar, and their trip to her home country, Slovakia, in 2008 cemented them as her favorite team. She has been a fan ever since, even as she moved farther east.

When she moved to Indonesia, she did so with a Lightning model Zamboni in her single suitcase.

Cervenkova doesn’t know any other hockey fans in Bali, but she has friends who visit from Australia once a year and they talk hockey. Her fiance has no interest in watching games with her. Yet when the Lighting play at night, she tunes in at 8 a.m. — when she doesn’t have to be at work at 7.

So, I had a thought ...

• Standing up for yourself and your teammates is all well and good, but the Flyers laid out a blueprint for other teams to follow against the Lightning on Saturday. The Flyers dance on that line between a physical game and a chippy one. They pulled the Lightning into the latter.

It’s great that the Lightning showed they won’t be pushed around, but there needs to be a way to do that without getting away from their game and allowing a three-goal lead to turn into one, as what happened in the third period Saturday.

Erik Cernak was given a 10-minute misconduct for his role in an extracurricular scrum in the second period. Also in the second, Steven Stamkos took a roughing penalty for responding to a jab to the face that would have turned into a 5-on-3 Flyers power play if matching penalties hadn’t been called.

• A few weeks ago, as the Lightning surged to their first 10-game winning streak of the season, I said they could win the Atlantic Division but it would be tough to catch the Bruins. Well, here we are. The Lightning have been on a 22-2-1 stretch and are now three points behind Boston in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy.

Redditor jimmyruby posted a video of Dash’s race from The Incredibles, comparing his superhero family to Lightning fans as they call for him to finish second and avoid the Presidents’ Trophy “curse” after a slow start.

Three-on-three

Edmonton Oilers right wing Zack Kassian (44) and Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Eric Cernak (81) during the Feb. 13 game at Amalie Arena. [BRIAN MCWALTERS | ZUMAPRESS.com]

Longest suspensions of the season: 3. St. Louis’ Robert Bortuzzo, four games for cross-checking Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson. 2. Dallas’ Corey Perry, five games for elbowing Nashville’s Ryan Ellis. 1. Edmonton’s Zack Kassian, seven games for kicking the Lightning’s Erik Cernak.

Related: The Lightning were brothers in arms, and also in fists, against the Flyers

Pestiest pests: 3. Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk. 2. Philadelphia’s Travis Konecny. 1. Boston’s Brad Marchand.

Most interesting teams to watch at the trade deadline: 3. Arizona. 2. Nashville. 1. Montreal.

Question for the Lightning

Why is Victor Hedman playing so much?

The defenseman’s playing time has skyrocketed recently. He played more than half of Saturday’s win over the Flyers, 32:12 total. That’s absurd. He averages closer to 23 minutes a game, but he hasn’t played less than 26:44 in the past seven games. For comparison, Senators defenseman Thomas Chabot leads the league with an average of 26:04 (he played 37:56 against the Lightning on Dec. 17, 10 seconds short of a league record).

There’s a clear correlation between Hedman’s highest ice time and defense injuries, especially when Ryan McDonagh is out, as he is now with an injury. When other players go down, more falls on the No. 1 defenseman. McDonagh has added a lot to the Lightning in the last year and a half; one of the biggest pieces is what he takes away from Hedman. Hedman doesn’t have to be the go-to guy in all situations when the Lightning can go to McDonagh and Erik Cernak, including on the penalty kill. But with McDonagh out, Hedman and Cernak are always the first pair up.

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