The stage is set for Hed­man’s break­out

The de­fense­man has been a ma­jor fac­tor in the Light­ning’s Stan­ley Cup run.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - HE­LENE EL­LIOTT

CHICAGO — Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper called de­fense­man Vic­tor Hed­man’s emer­gence as a force in the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal a com­ing-out party, but Hed­man’s team­mates aren’t sur­prised the 6-foot-6 Swede has ex­celled dur­ing his first ex­pe­ri­ence on hockey’s big­gest stage.

“We’ve got to see it and wit­ness it for most of this sea­son,” for­ward Bren­den Mor­row said. “The rest of y’all are get­ting to see it now.”

The hockey world has seen Hed­man take on a heavy work­load and take over a game at both ends of the ice. His pre­cise passes

set up the Light­ning’s first and third goals in a 3-2 come­back victory over the Black­hawks on Mon­day, but his team-lead­ing five blocked shots and re­lent­less work with An­ton Stral­man in shut­ting down Chicago cen­ter Jonathan Toews were equally vi­tal in lift­ing Tampa Bay to a 2-1 se­ries lead head­ing into Game 4 Wed­nes­day at the United Cen­ter.

In many ways Hed­man is Tampa Bay’s equiv­a­lent of Chicago cor­ner­stone Dun­can Keith. Hed­man’s plus-12 post­sea­son de­fen­sive rat­ing is sec­ond only to Keith’s plus-14, and his pro­duc­tion of one goal and 14 points is sec­ond among de­fense­men only to Keith’s two goals and 20 points. Hed­man’s av­er­age ice time of 23 min­utes and 46 sec­onds lags be­hind Keith’s 31:20, but few hu- mans have Keith’s en­durance.

“There’s no doubt with his size, his skat­ing abil­ity, I mean, he’s been mak­ing plays, he’s been of­fen­sive. In a lot of ways, yeah, he is a guy like Dun­can who makes, more times than not, the play­ers he’s out there with bet­ter,” Toews said Tues­day, a rest day for both teams. “He’s a cat­a­lyst when he’s in his own zone or the of­fen­sive zone. He’s def­i­nitely a guy we need to get on a lit­tle bit more.”

First, the Black­hawks must catch Hed­man, who has been touted for star­dom since he was cho­sen sec­ond in the 2009 en­try draft.

“He can get out of trou­ble with mov­ing the puck with his stick or with his feet,” Mor­row said. “I don’t know if he’s as smooth as Scott Nie­der­mayer was, but he can move like him and he’s about four or five inches taller. He’s a mon­ster.”

Quite a com­pli­ment. But in typ­i­cally mod­est hockey player fash­ion, Hed­man shared the credit for hav­ing el­e­vated his game.

“It’s easy for an in­di­vid­ual to get bet­ter when you play with such great team- mates. It’s no dif­fer­ent for me,” said Hed­man, who missed six weeks early this sea­son af­ter un­der­go­ing surgery on a frac­tured fin­ger. “I al­ways go out there and want to make a dif­fer­ence on both ends of the ice.

“For an in­di­vid­ual, you need the whole team be­hind you. I’m for­tu­nate enough to be on this team. The re­siliency we showed through­out the play­offs, we had some ad­ver­sity but ev­ery time we faced some we bounced right back.”

Hed­man, 24, of­ten was the rea­son they re­bounded. Be­fore be­ing in­stru­men­tal in the third-pe­riod rally Mon­day, he had set up Ja­son Gar­ri­son’s de­ci­sive power-play goal in Game 2.

“For me it’s all about try­ing to make the play that’s there, try not to force things too much,” he said. “Try­ing to use my strengths as a player.”

Those strengths were es­pe­cially use­ful Mon­day, with goal­tender Ben Bishop ham­pered by an undis­closed in­jury. Hed­man and his team­mates pro­tected the gritty Bishop ex­tremely well; Bishop did his part by mak­ing 36 saves.

Cooper had no up­date on Bishop’s phys­i­cal state but had a glow­ing as­sess­ment of Bishop’s and the team’s emo­tional state.

“The burning de­sire to win, the burning de­sire to hoist that Stan­ley Cup, it can move moun­tains,” Cooper said. “That’s what it’s do­ing with our play­ers. It’s un­real to watch.”

The Black­hawks aren’t en­joy­ing that spec­ta­cle. They’ve got prob­lems of their own. Coach Joel Quen­neville said top-four de­fense­man Johnny Oduya, who played limited min­utes in the sec­ond and third pe­ri­ods Mon­day, has an up­per-body in­jury and will be reeval­u­ated Wed­nes­day. If he’s not at full strength the Black­hawks will have a tough time end­ing their first two-game los­ing streak of the play­offs.

“I think we should be ex­it­ing Game 2 and Game 3 with anger, a lot of emo­tions. There’s got to be pur­pose be­hind it,” Quen­neville said, adding that play­ers can’t dwell on those losses. “I think there’s con­fi­dence in the group that we’re able to do it. I’m wor­ried about one game. And we haven’t seen our best yet.”

Scarier still is that the rest of the NHL might not have seen the best of Hed­man yet.

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