Hedman leading the way for Lightning in Stanley Cup Final

Victor Hedman’s skill set as one of the NHL’s best defenseman is well-known. The Tampa Bay Lightning blue liner has been a Norris Trophy finalist in each of the last four seasons, winning the award in 2018.

He’s an all-world defender, one whose offensive game has flourished over the last seven seasons. Since 2013-14, Hedman has hit double digit goals ever year and averaged 55 points per season. Prior to this summer, he’d never scored more than four goals or recorded more than 14 points in one playoff. He’s blown both of those personal bests out of the water this postseason.

Through 22 games, Hedman has 10 goals. He’s currently tied with Bo Horvat, Joe Pavelski and Ondrej Palat for second in the NHL, only behind teammate Brayden Point (11). Only Paul Coffey (12) and Brian Leetch (11) have scored more goals in a single postseason among defensemen. (Hedman did not score in three Round-Robin games.)

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The increase in offense is a result of Hedman shooting more. Since 2015-16, he’s averaged over two shots per game, scoring 56 times over that period. This postseason he’s firing pucks at a 3.22 per game rate and has been held to one shot or fewer only three times.

“When he’s shooting the puck, we’re in a better spot,” Tampa head coach Jon Cooper said last week. “I think he realizes that and we’re definitely taking advantage of it.”

Hedman added to his total this postseason during Wednesday’s 5-2, Game 3 win over the Stars. It was a timely goal coming 54 seconds into the second period after Dallas had cut the lead to 2-1. It was also a power play marker, another sign that the once-struggling special teams unit was back on track.

But ask the 6-foot-6 Swede about his own exploits and he’ll give you the typical hockey player answer.

“I like to contribute offensively, but we’re not here for our personal stats, we’re here for one thing and that’s winning the Stanley Cup,” Hedman said after Game 3. “When I get the puck on my stick, I’ll make a pass or shoot for a goal. Obviously happy with the way things have been going, but at the end of the day it’s about helping our team win, and if it’s by a goal or a blocked shot, it doesn’t really matter to us. The end goal is still the same.”

[2020 Stanley Cup Final schedule]

How dominant has Hedman been this postseason? He is a favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy, but his defensive ability has been unrivaled. According to Natural Stat Trick, when he’s on the ice the Lightning have outscored opponents 24-6 at even strength since the start of the First Round. In all situations, he’s averaged 27:46 of ice time in his last 19 games.

“He’s a pretty determined player,” Cooper said. “He’s been nominated for four straight Norris Trophies, so he’s pretty damn good. His timing and uplifting us at these big moments when we need a boost — overtime winning goals, defensive plays he’s made — the timing of a lot of things he’s done has been remarkable. But I guess if you’re doing great things your timing is always going to be good.”

Timing is everything — whether it’s a goal to increase a lead or a great defensive play to deny a goal scoring opportunity. Denis Gurianov found that out in Game 3.

Hedman has developed the ability to carry his team when other stars are out of the lineup. This Lightning team is deep and can find its own way should he have an off night. But when he’s on, which is more often than not, life isn’t easy for opponents.

Said Tyler Johnson: “I’m pretty thankful he’s on our team.”

You can watch Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Friday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stamkos on Game 3 return: ‘It was a dream come true’

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Scroll Down For:

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

    buffalo sabres
    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
    1 Comment

    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

    washington capitals
    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.

    Penguins prospect Sam Poulin taking leave of absence

    pittsburgh penguins
    Jeanine Leech/Getty Images
    0 Comments

    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins forward prospect Sam Poulin is taking a leave of absence from the club’s American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.

    Penguins general manager Ron Hextall announced on Wednesday that the 21-year-old Poulin, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2019 draft, is stepping away due to “personal reasons.”

    “The Penguins support Sam’s decision to take time away from hockey to focus on himself,” Hextall said in a release. “As with all of our players, our priority is them as individuals first. We look forward to having him back with the team when he is ready.”

    Hextall said Poulin will return home to Quebec and continue to work out on his own.

    Poulin made his NHL debut in October and had one assist in three games before heading back to the AHL. Poulin had four goals in 13 games for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton at the time of his decision.

    Nathan MacKinnon sidelined about a month with upper-body injury

    Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
    0 Comments

    DENVER — The injury-riddled Colorado Avalanche will be without leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon for about a month after he suffered an upper-body injury in a loss to Philadelphia.

    The team announced the news on social media.

    MacKinnon has eight goals and 26 assists for a team-best 34 points this season for the defending Stanley Cup champions. He joins a long list of banged-up players, including Valeri Nichushkin, Evan Rodrigues, Bowen Byram, Kurtis MacDermid, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and captain Gabriel Landeskog. Forward Artturi Lehkonen also missed the game in Philadelphia.

    The 27-year-old MacKinnon signed an eight-year extension in August. He was coming off a postseason in which he tied for the league lead with 13 goals, helping the Avalanche raise their third Stanley Cup in franchise history.