Before their game on Saturday night the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrated the franchise’s first ever Presidents’ Trophy after clinching the NHL’s best regular season record more than two weeks ago.
Once the puck dropped, however, it was the Washington Capitals — the team that eliminated the Lightning in the playoffs a year ago on their way to winning the Stanley Cup — that came out flying and jumped out to a 4-0 lead.
That was not the most concerning news of the night for the Lightning. What could possibly be worse? How about an injury to one of their best players, defenseman Victor Hedman.
Hedman, who had already missed 10 games earlier this season due to injury, exited the game late in the first period after a collision with Capitals forward Carl Hagelin that resulted in Hagelin’s helmet catching him in the chin.
The Lightning eventually announced that Hedman would not return with an “upper-body injury.”
Having already clinched everything they can possibly clinch in the regular season (division, home-ice advantage, Presidents’ Trophy) the Lightning have, quite literally, nothing left to play for over their few remaining regular season games. The biggest concern for them is going to be simply getting through these without suffering any major injuries for the start of the playoffs, especially as coach Jon Cooper doesn’t seem to have any intention on resting any of his key players.
With Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi already out of the lineup the Lightning’s lineup has been a little banged up as of late. It has not really hurt them. But Hedman is the one player on that defensive unit they do not want to be without because he can be such a game-changer given the minutes he logs, the production he is capable of, and the way he can shut down any team’s top player on any given night.
The reigning Norris Trophy winner, Hedman is one of the league’s best all-around defenders and is having another monster season for the Lightning with 54 total points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games.