“He’s pretty damn good, and what he is doing now … his timing and uplifting us at these big moments when we need a boost, overtime-winning goals. You just go down the list. Defensive plays. The timing of a lot of the things he’s done has been remarkable,” Cooper said after Game 3. “But I guess if you do great things all game, your timing will always be good.”
With 20 points in 22 games, the Swedish defenseman is firmly in the conversation for the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded to the playoff MVP. Tampa Bay has a 2-1 series lead over Dallas, with Game 4 scheduled for Friday.
“I like to contribute offensively, but I think [Nikita Kucherov] said it last game, we are not here for personal stats,” Hedman said after Game 3. “We are here for one thing, and that is winning the Stanley Cup. When I get the puck on my stick, you know, make a pass or shoot for goal, obviously happy with the way things have been going. But at the end of the day, it is about helping my team win.”
Hedman had a goal and two assists Wednesday. He scored what proved to be the game-winner when he buried a wrister from the high slot early in the second period. His assists came on goals by Steven Stamkos, who played in his first game this postseason, and Brayden Point.
Stamkos, who had not played since Feb. 25, scored 6:58 into the game on the first shot he took to give Tampa Bay a 2-0 lead. He finished with 2:47 of ice time, all in the first period.
“You know, he only had five shifts,” Cooper said. “But [it was] probably as efficient of five shifts you’re ever going to see in a National Hockey League playoff game.”
Said Stamkos: “Just to be able to get out into a game and have an impact on a game, which a month ago may have never been possible. It was amazing to be part of a big win for us, and I was just really happy to, obviously, contribute in a game that I didn’t play too much.”
Since the start of the playoffs, Hedman has played in 20 games and averaged 28:36 in ice time. Tampa Bay is outscoring teams 24-6 with Hedman on the ice during five-on-five play.
Former Washington Capitals defenseman Calle Johansson said Hedman, his countryman, has taken his game “to another level” this postseason and has benefited from being in the spotlight.
“He had a great season, but sometimes I would say sometimes he overworks things, Victor. Because he expects a lot of himself and a lot of people expect a lot of things of him, so he overworks it,” Johansson said in a phone interview from Sweden. “I think this postseason he has played very, very simple, and when you play simple and you don’t force things you just end up in the right spot and the puck comes to you. … Because he is playing the game a little more simple, playing a little calmer or relaxed, I think that is why everything falls in place.”
And while Hedman, Kucherov and Point have all stepped up in the absence of Stamkos, Tampa Bay’s depth also has taken center stage, which has pushed the Lightning to within two wins of the second Cup title in franchise history.
“When [stars step up], I think everyone else relaxes and the young guys can kind of play their game. They don’t have any pressure,” Johansson said. “Nobody is playing with pressure, so to speak.”
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