No NHL defenseman had recorded a point streak of at least eight postseason games in more than two decades before Tuesday night, when Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman crossed that threshold with two deft passes on power plays. Both assists were one-timed into the net to set the tone in the Lightning’s 4-2 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals, but it wasn’t until Hedman scored a third unanswered goal that Tampa Bay had slammed the door on the possibility of falling into a 3-0 series deficit.
Scoring a point in eight straight games, which hadn’t been done since Pittsburgh’s Larry Murphy did it all the way back in 1995, appeared to carry little significance for Hedman on Tuesday night. It felt better to know that he had given his team more production on both ends, including on the penalty kill, as Washington went 0 for 3 on power-play opportunities.
“For me, it’s about being effective on all ends of the ice and trying to be a difference-maker every time I step on it,” Hedman said.
In addition to helping pull the Lightning back into the series after losing the first two games on its home ice last weekend, Hedman’s goal was the latest sign of an offensive awakening for a player who didn’t score a point in Tampa Bay’s first-round series win over New Jersey.
He also hadn’t scored a goal in these playoffs before Tuesday night, when he found himself charging through Washington’s defensive zone and tapping his stick on the ice, hungry for the puck.
Hedman had already set up two power-play goals. The first was a one-timer by captain Steven Stamkos, who beat Washington goaltender Braden Holtby top shelf with just over six minutes remaining in the first period; the second assist went to Nikita Kucherov, who rocketed his slap shot past Holtby just less than two minutes into the second period.
“I’m put in that position to produce, and I put that pressure on myself to do. Today was one of those games,” Hedman said. “When you feed pucks to [Kucherov] and [Stamkos], pucks are going to go in.”
Kucherov returned the favor less than two minutes later, finding Hedman as he crossed the blue line and scored on a wide-open net. It was his first goal since Tampa Bay’s second-to-last regular season game April 6, and it signified — at least for a night — that Tampa Bay had found itself after struggling to score in the first two games of the series. Hedman might be the favorite to win the Norris Trophy, given to the league’s top defenseman, and his presence helped spur Tampa Bay’s offense Tuesday.
“He’s a perennial Norris guy. But we can’t describe how good he is out there,” Stamkos said. “We rely on him a ton. He’s a horse. Most nights, if he’s going well, we’re going well as a team. Another big effort for him tonight, and you could see we all followed suit.”
Hedman said his mentality wouldn’t change after scoring his first goal of the playoffs, which comes after he set a career high with 17 goals during the regular season. That mark also tied him for the most among defensemen in the league and helped him secure his second consecutive 60-point season, a first in franchise history. And while he added another decoration Tuesday night by scoring a point in an eighth consecutive game, it easily could have come in a loss. Instead he was everywhere on the ice — checking, helping kill power plays, setting up goals, even scoring himself — that was more symbolic of Tampa Bay’s revival in the series.
“Not just that we scored first, just how we played,” Hedman said. “All over the ice.”
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