TAMPA — After missing most of the first two games of the first-round playoff series against the Maple Leafs, Victor Hedman officially is a game-time decision entering Game 3 tonight at Amalie Arena.
But all signs point to the Lightning’s top defenseman returning to the lineup with the series tied at one game apiece.
Hedman, who exited Game 1 win after just one period and was scratched for Game 2, was a full participant in this morning’s full-team skate at Amalie.
Hedman was paired with usual partner Nick Perbix and back on the second power-play unit, both indications he should play tonight.
Head coach Jon Cooper said Hedman will participate in pregame warmups — something he didn’t do before Game 2 — and a determination will be made on his availability afterward.
“Cross your fingers,” Cooper said. “Hopefully, he will be ready to go.
“It’s an important time of year. It crushes guys when they can’t go, and it has to be an extreme situation for them not to play. They’re gamers, and hopefully we’re going to get him back because, obviously, he is a really important part of our team.”
Hedman rarely misses games, especially in the postseason. His Game 2 absence was his first in the playoffs since the beginning of the 2020 bubble. He played in all 71 games of the Lightning’s three straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
“We are used to playing against him,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We went into last game assuming he was going to play. We go into this game assuming he’s going to play.”
In 2021, Hedman played all 82 regular-season games, despite a meniscus injury that lingered throughout the playoffs. The previous postseason, Hedman won the Conn Smythe Trophy, netting 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games as the Lightning won the Cup in the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles.
“He’s certainly made out of that viking stock, for sure,” said Lightning defenseman Ian Cole. “I mean, he’s big, strong and fast, he can skate. He’s a heck of a player, and without a doubt he’s played through a lot of stuff. It’ll be great to get him back, whenever that is.”
The Lightning likely won’t get back right-shot defenseman Erik Cernak for Game 3. Cernak has been out since taking a hit to the head from Leafs forward Michael Bunting in Game 1, a hit that drew a three-game suspension for Bunting. Right-shot defenseman Zach Bogosian likely will draw in again for Cernak.
Forward Mikey Eyssimont also is expected to be available after being knocked out of Game 1. Tanner Jeannot returned from injury to fill his spot in Game 2.
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