The last time the Tampa Bay Lightning was in an Eastern Conference Final, towering Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman was only a sophomore in the league.
A prized young player at the time, the six-foot-six-inch Hedman has, especially over the last two seasons and now at the age of 24, developed into the top blue liner on the Lightning.
“I’ve been able to learn from that year, and I feel like I want to take responsibility. I want to be a leader. I want to be a difference maker on the ice,” Hedman told reporters Tuesday.
Not only does he lead the Lightning in ice time during these playoffs, he leads all Tampa Bay defensemen in points with eight in 15 games.
He added to his point total in a dominant Game 2 victory over the Rangers on Monday, with a beautiful cross-ice set-up to Alex Killorn for an easy goal into an open net. Hedman, from the left point, faked the shot, then slid a perfect pass to his teammate. The floodgates opened from there.
“Well, Victor, I don’t think you get to this part of the season without having a top, elite-tier defenseman. And he is that for us, I think,” said head coach Jon Cooper.
“You look at the two of them, when he and (Anton Stralman) are paired together, I think it’s as good as you’re going to get in this league. He plays the whole 200 feet. He’s blessed with the size, the skill, the speed. He can make plays like he did last night to Killorn.
“Just can’t say enough. If I look at our year, obviously (Ben Bishop) is the guy that anchors us back there. But when Hedman is going, our team’s going. Sometimes when he’s not, our team isn’t, and that says a lot about a player that he has that much effect on our team.”