Kane, Toews may have toughest assignment yet in Hedman, Stralman

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TAMPA — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane have gone up against some pretty formidable defensive pairings in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fitting, because they’re about to face another one — possibly the best so far.

Prior to Wednesday’s series opener, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said that Kane and Toews can expect to see a lot of his ace pairing of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman in the coming days.

“Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are two of the best players this league has seen in a long time,” Cooper explained. “But we feel Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, we go down our list and think, maybe we’re not too bad ourselves. Let’s prove to everybody you can play against these guys.

“In saying that, they’ll probably see a high dose of Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman.”

Cooper admitted that while line matching is important, getting the right defensive pair out against forwards is imperative. So it’ll be interesting to see the chess game that unfolds with Kane and Toews — assuming Joel Quenneville keeps the pieces together.

There has been talk of possibly splitting up Kane and Toews, who starred in the Anaheim series while playing together; Toews finished with five goals and two assists, Kane three and four. Quenneville was non-committal about his plans earlier this week — saying “we’ll see” and “it’s nice having some flexibility” — and, of course, his penchant for firing up the ol’ line blender is well-documented.

“Joel changes lines quite a bit,” Cooper noted. “We’ll just have to see how things go, how things start. I can’t predict what he’s going to do.

“I’m fairly certain the lineup he starts with won’t be the lineup he finishes with. He’ll move things around.”

Hedman and Stralman are superior to any of the pairings Anaheim put out in the Western Conference final. At 6-foot-6 and 230 pounds, Hedman brings tremendous physicality while the cerebral Stralman, lauded for his ability to read the game, always seems to be in the right position to make a play. Both of their skill sets will come into play if they’re tasked with Toews and Kane, who can beat opponents in a variety of ways.

“Their hockey IQ is combined as good as they come,” veteran Bolts forward Brenden Morrow said. “You put them together, they’re pretty tough. [Toews] wins all his one on one battles, and Kane is the setup guy, playmaker with quick hands.

“They’re both tough to contain as individuals, but you put them together, that makes it that much tougher.”