TAMPA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman took full responsibility for his play of late after Thursday’s morning skate.
The 2018 Norris Trophy winner was coming off a minus-3 performance at Nashville in Tuesday’s 7-2 loss and knew he could be better. But he also knew his team had better in it, and it started with him.
“I have to be better, there’s no question about it,” he said. “It starts with me, and I have to do better and lead the way.”
And lead the way he did in the Lightning’s 3-2 overtime win against the Panthers on Thursday night, scoring 54 seconds into the extra period.
With a quick flick of the toe of his stick, forward Alex Killorn sent the puck across to Hedman just before the blue line. The rest was easy as Hedman sneaked the puck around the back of goalie Chris Driedger’s right skate.
“I think there’s a reason, in my mind, why he’s the best defenseman in the NHL,” Killorn said.
“Not only does he make a great play, he forces the shot on the defensive side, (Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy) makes the save, and then he’s … maybe not the last guy back, and he finds a way to get all the way up the ice. That can be tiring for a lot of other guys, and I think for him, he’s such a horse, (a) leader on this team. (I’m) proud of the way he played.”
Hedman’s goal secured a much-needed win — the Lightning remained tied with the Hurricanes in points at the top of the Central Division (Carolina has a game in hand), and the Panthers fell one point back — but it didn’t obscure some of the flaws in the game. The Panthers outshot Tampa Bay 38-19. Yet, the Lightning (29-12-2) still found a way to win.
“I think I just loved our attitude, our resiliency, especially when you go down 2-1 in the third period,” Killorn said. “Just that resiliency of getting those chances at the end and then bringing (the Panthers) to overtime.”
Like Hedman, Killorn thought the veterans needed to step up. After Tuesday’s loss, defenseman Ryan McDonagh said it was one of the worst performances he had seen from the Lightning and some things needed to change.
“I think a lot of guys maybe that were challenged or wanted to step up did so,” Killorn said.
The Panthers’ Patric Hornqvist opened the scoring with 4:47 remaining in the first period, in which the Panthers outshot the Lightning 13-4.
The Lightning didn’t find their break until their first power-play opportunity in the second period. Killorn got his stick on the puck and skated toward Driedger, shuffling it across the top of the crease toward forward Anthony Cirelli.
Florida defenseman Mackenzie Weegar tried to disrupt the pass but knocked in the puck to tie the score at 1 with 6:32 remaining. Killorn was credited with the goal, breaking a nine-game drought dating to March 25 at Dallas.
Florida forward Anthony Duclair broke the tie with 12:47 remaining in the third with a one-timer on the right side.
The Lightning stayed on the move, though, as rookie forward Ross Colton tied it at 2 with 10:03 remaining in regulation. In 17 games, Colton has eight goals.
Going into Thursday, Hedman had been scoreless in five of his past 10 games. He had one goal and four assists in that time. And he was minus-9 over his last eight games. But his work in overtime paid off.
“It was clearly a big play for us at a big moment,” coach Jon Cooper said.
“But that’s how you work your way out of that stuff. Victor’s an elite, world-class player in this league, but they’re human, as well. If he doesn’t think he’s playing as well as he can, he’s probably right, but he can still do things like that, and I’m sure this will be a great confidence-builder for him.”
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