‘When Hedman is going, our team’s going,’ says Lightning coach Cooper

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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.”

 

Johnson learned ‘there were two nets’ in the AHL; will Drouin be taught the same thing?

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Lightning coach Jon Cooper credits Tyler Johnson’s two seasons in the AHL for producing the playoff scoring sensation that hockey fans are watching today.

What, specifically, did Johnson learn in the minors?

“Johnny learned how to be a pro hockey player,” said Cooper. “He learned that there were two nets on the ice. All these players, regardless who you are, you just don’t — the one thing about the American League is nobody is really watching, and it’s a clear development league. In the NHL, everybody’s watching, and this is a win-now league. So these guys, when they had their ups and downs, they did it in the minors.

“But my experience down there, you watch guys come in and you see guys that come in highly touted and don’t really make it, and you come in and see guys that grind their way out and understand pro hockey and make it. Then you see guys like Johnny that come in with no fanfare at all and become superstars. What he’s doing in the NHL started in the American League. ”

Cooper’s answer is interesting for a number of reasons. From a big-picture perspective, it underscores the importance of proper player development. The NHL may be a young man’s game, but if a prospect isn’t ready, he isn’t ready.

Which brings us to Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. What was it that Cooper said about why Drouin has been a healthy scratch for most of these playoffs? Oh right, it was this: “There is more than one net in a rink. There’s two. You have to be able to play in front of both.”

In other words, don’t be surprised if Drouin, 20, spends some time in Syracuse next season. It’s unfortunate for his development that he wasn’t allowed to go there full-time this season, but those are the rules.

In case you haven’t noticed, the NHL is a young man’s game

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Just for the sake of the discussion — and since everyone’s talking about Tyler Johnson today — here are all the players who have scored at least five goals in these playoffs:

Johnson (11), Corey Perry (7), Patrick Kane (7), Nikita Kucherov (6), Chris Kreider (6), Vladimir Tarasenko (6), Alex Killorn (6), Derek Stepan (5), Alex Ovechkin (5), Derick Brassard (5), Evgeny Kuznetsov (5), Max Pacioretty (5), Matt Beleskey (5), and Colin Wilson (5).

That’s 14 players. Can you pick out the oldest?

The answer is Anaheim’s Perry, who turned 30 on Saturday. Only slightly younger than Perry, Ovechkin will turn 30 in September.

Otherwise, it’s all players who are comfortably in their 20s, their legs still full of burst, their bodies not yet worn down by the grind of taking hundreds of pucks hard to the net, and all the punishment that goes with scoring goals in today’s NHL.

This isn’t to say that once a goal-scorer turns 30 he should be put out to pasture, like the theory about running backs in the NFL. Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, and Martin St. Louis all had productive postseasons last year. This year is perhaps an extreme case.

But it does show the importance of youth, and how quickly a player — especially a forward — can go from getting drafted to making a significant impact.

True, patience is required when developing prospects. You don’t want to rush them. There’s nothing wrong with learning the game in the AHL. But at the same time, there has to be a sense of urgency in getting prospects ready for the NHL so they can enjoy as many productive seasons as possible, before their peak years (at a relatively low cap hit) are over.

Hence, all the talk surrounding 20-year-old Jonathan Drouin. While it’s not like the Lightning should be hitting the panic button that he hasn’t yet gained the trust of his coach, it’s not unfair to wonder if he’s fallen a bit behind in his development.

In a related story, Capitals GM Brian MacLellan knows “the next three or four years is the window” in Washington. Because, where will Ovechkin’s game be after that? Where will Nicklas Backstrom’s? The Caps have an opportunity over the next few years to get production from both their veterans and their youth. That’s the sweet spot every GM aims for. And those sweet spots don’t last long.

PHT Morning Skate: Blunder and Lightning

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

Are the Chicago Blackhawks going to regret the fact that they didn’t add defense at the deadline beyond Kimmo Timonen? (Bleacher Report)

Too bad this possible Chicago signing can’t jump right in then, assuming he chooses the Blackhawks, huh?

Some of these troubles are just pure bad luck, really. (The Hockey News)

How to know you’ve made it in the NHL: people at least try to learn how to pronounce your name. (Greatest Hockey Legends)

It hasn’t been made official from the San Jose Sharks, but all signs point to them landing Joonas Donskoi:

It’s believed that the Oilers will confirm rumors of hiring Todd McLellan this afternoon.

This 8-Bit playoff bracket is pretty cute. (BarDown by way of Reddit Hockey)

The New York Post’s back page was devoted to the Rangers’ Game 2 loss (and Martin St. Louis’ reaction to that pun):

Conversely, Tyler Johnson gets some front-page love in Tampa:

Lightning solve Lundqvist, hand Rangers their first blowout loss

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The New York Rangers found the back of the net twice in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final tonight. That level of offensive production has been the norm for the Rangers in the 2015 playoffs and its gotten them this far, but it wasn’t nearly enough tonight.

After doing a good job of shutting down the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in their previous series, the Rangers couldn’t contain Tampa Bay’s forwards tonight as it suffered a 6-2 loss to the Lightning. This is the first time the Rangers have lost by more than a goal in the 2015 postseason.

Part of the issue is that Tampa Bay has more offensive depth than the Rangers’ previous opponents, Pittsburgh or Washington, even if all three teams have star power. Containing Steven Stamkos isn’t easy nor is it enough as Tyler Johnson has proven that he’s more than capable of leading the charge. He already had eight goals in 14 games going into tonight’s contest and Johnson added to that by earning the first hat trick in Lightning playoff history.

With Tampa Bay up 3-2 early in the third period, Alex Killorn provided the squad with some insurance after receiving a beautiful pass from Victor Hedman:

Stamkos accounted for Tampa Bay’s fifth goal roughly three minutes later. He now has 12 points in 15 games, which would make him the scoring leader in New York, but its only good to put him in a tie for third place with the Lightning. The player he’s tied with is Killorn, who added his second goal of the game with just over two minutes remaining.

This is the most goals Henrik Lundqvist has surrendered in the 2015 playoffs to date. At the other end of the ice, Ben Bishop wasn’t perfect, but he did make plenty of key saves en route to turning aside 35 of 37 shots.

Tampa Bay has now evened the series at 1-1 and put the Rangers in a position where they have to win at least one game in Amalie Arena. New York will get its first opportunity to do that in Game 3 on Wednesday.