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Lightning’s Victor Hedman shooting — and scoring — more this playoffs

The star defenseman has always been considered offensive-minded, but this postseason that means goals even more than assists.
The Lightning's Victor Hedman (77) and Mikhail Sergachev (98)  celebrate after a goal in the third period against the New York Islanders in Game 3.
The Lightning's Victor Hedman (77) and Mikhail Sergachev (98) celebrate after a goal in the third period against the New York Islanders in Game 3. [ MARKO DITKUN | Special to the Times ]
Published Sep. 15, 2020
Updated Sep. 16, 2020

Victor Hedman shifts to the center of the ice, sinks down away from the blue line and rips off a shot.

It’s become a familiar scene in this year’s playoffs — the Lightning defenseman scored twice that way in a single game — but it’s not Hedman’s usual habit. He is known for his offensive production and is consistently one of the league’s highest-scoring defensemen, but that comes from assists not goals.

Through Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final, Hedman has more goals than assists for the first time in his career, and it comes from shooting the puck more than ever before.

Related: Steven Stamkos is skating again. Could he play in the Stanley Cup final?

“When he’s shooting the puck, we’re in a better spot,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I think he realizes that and we’re definitely taking advantage of it.”

He did it again Tuesday night. As the forwards brought the Islanders down toward the goal line, Hedman sank to the left circle to jump on a rebound. He took a big wind up but took a little off the shot to place it top shelf.

During the regular season, Hedman took fewer shots than previous years (2.35 per game, compared to 2.6 and 2.8 the past two seasons respectively), but he was right at his average since developing his offensive touch.

In the playoffs, he is averaging 3.1 shots per game. And it’s paying off. Hedman only took two shots in five periods on Tuesday, but he scored on one of them.

In his best-ever regular season, Hedman averaged a goal every four games. In this year’s playoffs, he is averaging a goal almost every other game.

With eight playoff goals, Hedman has reached 75 percent of his regular-season total (11). He had his first multi-goal playoff game since 2016 and his first ever postseason five-game goal streak.

Hedman is getting shots off quickly, rather than taking time to settle the puck, look for a pass, then find his shot. That makes a difference in taking advantage of shooting lanes before opponents can close them.

The Lightning’s forwards have also made a point of improving their net-front presence in this year’s playoffs, which creates screens and make shots from up high more likely to get through.

“It’s always been something we’ve harped on our D quite a bit,” Cooper said. “It’s a big part of our game plan, though, in these playoffs.”

One place Hedman is shooting more is the power play. He has great chemistry with captain Steven Stamkos, setting up the one-timer, but Stamkos isn’t in the playoffs. Hedman has also been playing on the second power-play unit, which means without Nikita Kucherov, another one who benefits from Hedman’s assists.

Related: The Lightning haven't made things easy on Mathew Barzal and the Islanders' top line

It’s not to say Hedman has been cautious to shoot because he was with Stamkos and Kucherov, but he might have seen a pass to them as the more promising option. Playing without them, he builds new habits.

Now he has developed the habit of sinking down toward the high slot and ripping a shot on net. Or there’s the overtime game-winner to secure the series over Boston.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk fed Hedman and his shot was blocked. Shattenkirk set up Hedman again and this time the big defenseman made a move with his stick to fake Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo into thinking he was going to swing right and then ripped off the shot.

It’s not the kind of play you expect of a defenseman.

Hedman credited three other teammates on the play — Shattenkirk for his poise with the puck, Brayden Point for creating confusion up top, and Pat Maroon for screening the goalie. But it was his shot, through Carlo’s legs, that landed top shelf.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos on Twitter.