Victor Hedman was a welcome sight on the ice for the Lightning for Tuesday’s first game of their first-round playoff series against the Blue Jackets.
Hedman left the Lightning’s final round-robin game against the Flyers in the first period Saturday after appearing to injure an ankle. Four days later he and the Lightning ended up in an eight-period marathon against the Blue Jackets for the start of the best-of-seven series at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. And he was in it until the end.
In the 149th minute of the game, he chased down Cam Atkinson on a shorthanded breakaway that could well have ended the game. Hedman’s 57 minutes on ice led the Lightning. His nine shots on net tied Brayden Point for the game high.
“I was a little nervous when it happened last game but, at the end of the day, it’s playoffs and it’s going to take a lot for someone to sit out, so I felt better and I was ready to go,” Hedman said after the game. “Never in my mind did I think today was going to be eight periods, but it actually felt pretty good and I am super excited and excited for the next one.”
The Norris Trophy finalist contributed an assist on the Lightning’s opening goal. He took a shot from the blueline, which ricocheted back to Nikita Kucherov in the left face-off circle. Kucherov’s shot deflected off Point’s leg to knot the score at one goal apiece.
Hedman looked like he hadn’t missed any time, skating with ease and making smart offensive plays. The amount of frustration the typically even-tempered Hedman let out smashing his stick on his way off the ice on his fourth shift Saturday seemed to indicate a severe injury and potential long-term absence.
Then he stepped out of the tunnel for warmups Tuesday.
In warmups, the Lightning dressed seven defensemen to give Hedman a chance to test his injury. In the end, he was in the lineup and Luke Schenn was scratched.
After Saturday’s game, coach Jon Cooper said that as Hedman goes, so do the Lightning. He can set the tone on offense and defense with his strong skating and stick.
Hedman played a full load of seven minutes in the first period but did not take his usual spot at the point on the Lightning’s first power play. Mikhail Sergachev stepped into that spot, as he has when Hedman is out of the lineup.
Hedman was hurt Saturday when he tried to pivot and work his way back into the Lightning’s zone. He tripped and fell to the ice. He was slow to get up before making his way to the bench.