Playoff MVP candidate Victor Hedman keeps Tampa Bay Lightning rolling

ByJoe McDonald ESPN logo
Friday, May 13, 2016

TAMPA, Fla. -- Now, the Conn Smythe discussion can begin for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman.

If the Lightning hadn't lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup finals, it's likely Hedman would have been named postseason MVP last spring. But that didn't happen. That honor went to the Blackhawks' Duncan Keith.

But with the way Hedman is playing in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, his performance is worthy of the discussion again.

His two goals helped the Lightning clinch a second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference finals with a 4-0 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 5 of their second-round series on Sunday at Amalie Arena. In 10 playoff games, Hedman, 25, has four goals and five assists for nine points and is a plus-4. In 26 playoff games last postseason, he had one goal and 13 assists for 14 points and was a plus-11.

"Hedman was a monster in pretty much all of them, which helped us get there," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of last season's games in Tampa Bay's Cup run. "You could say that about a bunch of our players. You don't move on without having your best players be your best players."

"I thought tonight was pretty indicative of what Victor Hedman has done for us," Cooper added. "When the big boy's rolling, we feed off that, and he was a major factor in us winning tonight."

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop, who posted his fifth career postseason shutout, expects nothing but great things from Hedman.

"I'm getting used to it, I guess," Bishop said with a bright smile. "He's a great player. He seems to elevate his game at this time of the year -- last year and now this year. It's nice to have him on your side."

When asked what is the most impressive quality about Hedman, Bishop quickly joked, "His looks."

Then Bishop added, "He's just a workhorse. He has the size -- and the way he can move and how big he is. He's really swift. He's tough to get around. He can skate with anybody, and he's got some pretty good offensive talent too. And, he is still learning. He's still really young, and that's the scary thing. He's going to get even better the next however many years he plays. It's fun to watch him."

This will be the third consecutive trip to the conference finals for Lightning forward Brian Boyle, who also played for the New York Rangers on their trip to the finals in 2014. He knows exactly what it takes to win at this level. He shook his head and smiled when he talked about the Hedman's contributions.

"He is young, but he's been in this league for a number of years and he puts a lot of responsibility on himself as a leader on the team -- and as a person around Tampa. He's such a mature kid. The way he plays the game," Boyle said, "is what everyone is talking about now. "We've seen it before, and he covers so much ice. He can start a forecheck, starts the rush and he can come back and finish [opponents'] rushes and close them out, then get up ice and do it again.

"You've heard [assistant coach Rick Bowness] and Coop talk about how well he can skate, and obviously that's a huge asset for a big man. The way the kid competes -- he does everything for us from the back end and how many minutes he eats up, and if he's not playing 30, he's pretty pissed off. It's a great attitude to have."

The least amount of time Hedman played in the series against the Islanders was 26:32 in Game 1, the only tilt the Lightning lost. After that, he logged 27:35, 30:15, 27:46 and 27:43 in Games 2, 3, 4 and 5, respectively.

"For me, it's all about playing good defensively and offensively," Hedman said. "If you score a goal, or how many points you have, it doesn't really matter as long as you win the game."

One of many of Hedman's responsibilities was to limit the offensive production of Islanders' John Tavares. After the New York captain scored a goal and added an assist in the Islanders' Game 1 victory, Hedman and Tampa Bay's defense completely shut down Tavares and held him without a point for the remainder of the series.

Last season, the Blackhawks' Keith became the first defenseman to win the Conn Smythe since Scott Niedermayer won it with the Anaheim Ducks in 2006-07. Other defensive greats to have won the Conn Smythe includeNicklas Lidstrom (with the Detroit Red Wings in 2002), Scott Stevens (New Jersey Devils in 2000) and Brian Leetch (Rangers in 1994). But this season could be the first time a defenseman has claimed the trophy in consecutive seasons since Serge Savard of the Montreal Canadiens and Bobby Orr of the Boston Bruins won it in 1969 and 1970, respectively.

Sure, there's plenty of hockey remaining in the final two rounds before a team hoists the Stanley Cup, but if his production in the first 10 postseason games is any indication of what's to come, Hedman has the ability to lead this team to where it wants to go.

"He's done it all for us," Boyle said.

Related Video