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Game-time decision for Victor Hedman when Blackhawks visit Amalie Arena

by Bryan Burns / Tampa Bay Lightning

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman participated in the team’s morning skate prior to the Bolts’ anticipated matchup tonight against Western Conference power Chicago and didn’t appear limited in any way.

Hedman left Thursday’s practice before its conclusion, and Lightning coach Jon Cooper said the 6-foot-6 Swede “didn’t feel right” when asked why Hedman went back into the locker room before the rest of his teammates.

Cooper said Hedman’s status for the Blackhawks will be a “game-time decision.”

“We’ll see, but I suspect he should be in good shape,” Cooper said.

As long as Hedman doesn’t have any setbacks between now and puck drop, expect to see him on the ice tonight. Cooper said he’ll dress 21 for warmups just in case.

“We’ll just see if anything between now and then changes, but, if the game was starting right now, he’d be playing,” Cooper said.

Hedman is cautious not to push himself unnecessarily with a busy March looming, but said he doesn’t think playing tonight will cause him greater harm for the future.

“I came in today, felt great,” he said. “Obviously, fun to get on the ice and feel the body out a little bit. Feels right and fun matchup tonight, so it’s going to take a lot to miss that one.”


Chicago All-Star right wing Patrick Kane fractured his left clavicle three days ago against Florida and had surgery Wednesday.

Currently, Kane is tied with Philadelphia’s Jakub Voracek and Washington’s Nicklas Backstrom for the NHL scoring lead at 64 points. Chicago will no doubt miss its top player, but there are times when a major injury can galvanize a team, like last season when the Lightning found a way to continue winning after Steven Stamkos broke his leg.

“Sometimes when things like that happen, teams find a way,” Cooper said. “It changes their mindset. They find a way to rally around things like this. (The Blackhawks) are a deep team, clearly. They’re Stanley Cup contenders every single year, so this is just going to give guys that have probably been pushed down the lineup a bit because of their depth, now they’re going to get to open up and play more and they’ve got the players to do it.”

Kane will miss approximately 12 weeks of the season, a huge blow to the Blackhawks and their chances to return to the Western Conference Finals.

“First of all, you never want to see a player get hurt and second, especially a marquee player,” Cooper said. “Let’s not forget, this is a sport, people come to watch both teams, and they want to watch the best players play. So, when they’re out of the lineup, I think that hurts the game.”

Playing its first game with Kane absent, Chicago shut out the Florida Panthers in Sunrise 3-0 on Thursday. The Blackhawks are on the second half of a back-to-back when they line up against the Lightning Friday.

“I don’t know one player -- he’s obviously one of the best -- is he going to make that big of a difference as far as they’re still a great team?” Bishop asked. “When that stuff happens, they usually come together as a team, and we’ll have to be ready because I’m sure they’ll be ready to prove people wrong, that it’s not just a one-guy team in Kane.

“They’ll be ready to go.”


Rookie goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy returned to Tampa Bay on Thursday after being reassigned to the team’s AHL affiliate in Syracuse on Tuesday and playing one game with the Crunch.

Although Vasilevskiy lost his start 4-3 in Rochester – his fourth-straight across all levels including an overtime loss in Nashville to start the slide – the Bolts’ backup goalie was able to work on a few things and get some work in during a rare gap in the Lightning schedule.

He made 30-of-34 saves against the Americans.

“Not going to commit on who’s going to play (Sunday at Florida), but just say It’s Ben again. Now, you’re looking at nine days between games (for Vasilevskiy). We don’t want that,” Cooper said. “So, get a freebie in Rochester…It’s an easy flight up, go play and come back, and now he gets another game rep in. That’s what we want, and we had an ability to do that so why wouldn’t we?”

Cooper wants to have both goalies mentally and physically fresh down the stretch and for the playoffs should the Bolts grab a postseason berth as expected.

“We have 16 games in the next 32 days, so that’s a lot of games,” Cooper said. “That’s one every other day. Ben Bishop is not playing them all. And so if Vasy gets one a week or two a week some of these weeks we’ve got four games in a week, I think we’ll see how things are rolling with us, but it’s momentum, it’s how guys are playing, it’s how our team’s playing, how we can keep our goaltenders fresh.”

Cooper said that despite Vasilevskiy’s struggles of late, he has complete confidence in the 20-year-old first round draft pick (2012).

“I think Vasilevskiy’s played extremely well for us,” Cooper said. “I think he’s just been a victim of either us not scoring or whatever the case, but he’s played solid for us. He’s a really young goaltender in the league, so he’s finding his way.”

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