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Victor Hedman leads shorthanded defense in Lightning’s win over Kings

One of just four available defensemen, Hedman had three points, including two pivotal goals, in a game-high 32:37.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman celebrates his goal during the third period of Tuesday's game against the Kings in Los Angeles.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman celebrates his goal during the third period of Tuesday's game against the Kings in Los Angeles. [ MARK J. TERRILL | AP ]
Published Jan. 19|Updated Jan. 19

The self-proclaimed Tampa Bay “Find-A-Ways” found a way, once again, when the odds were stacked against them.

Tuesday against the Kings, injuries to three of their defensemen — Jan Rutta, Erik Cernak and Zach Bogosian — forced the Lightning to start their three-game west coast swing with just 16 skaters.

But the team’s tenacity and heavy puck possession made the difference in a 6-4 win in Los Angeles.

“(We’ve faced) adversity with guys getting hurt, adversity within the game,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “You can look at some of the bounces that went against us, and guys just kept fighting, battling, showed a lot of emotion. ... (We) just executed and closed them out.”

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To remain salary-cap compliant — the team is maxed out at $81.5 million with 22 players — the Lightning were forced to play without a full active roster since none of the missing players (Rutta, Cernak, Bogosian and forward Ondrej Palat) will go on long-term injured reserve, which requires players to miss 10 games and 24 days.

The Lightning (27-9-5) can make an emergency recall if needed when they face the Ducks on Friday.

The situation forced the four remaining defensemen — McDonagh, Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Cal Foote — to log major minutes (a combined 1:54:19) and contribute in nearly every situation.

“You can look at it two ways,” Hedman said. “You can look at it and feel sorry for yourself or you can look at it as an opportunity, and that’s how we approached it (Tuesday).”

Hedman contributed three points, including the opening goal in the first period, the primary assist on Nikita Kucherov’s second-period goal and the go-ahead goal in the third. His 32:37 of ice time led the team, 3:19 more than McDonagh.

“He was a force out there,” McDonagh said. “I think he always is. … He just thrives when he’s asked to do more. He wants to do that for the team. It was just a phenomenal performance (Tuesday) to help lead the way.”

After the morning skate, the Lightning determined they would have to play two defensemen short against the Kings (20-15-5).

While McDonagh was “a little nervous,” Hedman said he had trouble sleeping during his pregame nap for other reasons. He was excited about the night ahead and seeing what the team could do with its limited resources.

“You don’t want to have guys hurt and not be able to play, but we have never seen this before, never been a part of it, so something new, so you got pretty excited about it,” Hedman said. “We don’t want to do this on a regular basis, but for one game it was kind of fun to measure yourself and see what you can do with only four guys.

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“So, obviously very happy with the outcome and I am looking forward to getting some guys back next game.”

Related: NHL to stop testing asymptomatic players post-All-Star break

Hedman said his in-game routine didn’t change much aside from needing his water bottle refilled more frequently and going out every other shift instead of waiting for assignments from assistant coach Rob Zettler, who runs the defense corps.

“It was the easiest night Rob Zettler’s ever had behind the bench,” Cooper joked.

Nor did the team alter its game plan, aside from an extra emphasis on defensemen not taking penalties and the Lightning wanting to limit turnovers. After that, it was just a difference in mindset.

“I was just really proud of the guys,” Cooper said. “It just says we didn’t want to use any excuses to let two points slip through our fingers just because we had four D, and they found a way.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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