Mike Lundin is usually the player who makes huge plays that don’t get noticed by everyone.
This time, Lundin was at the front of the stage, in a big spot with the game on the line. The Lightning held a one-goal lead in the third period and he was the only player in position to help goalie Mike Smith as Carolina’s Erik Cole held the puck in the slot.
“I knew [Eric] Staal was behind me and saw Cole get the puck,” Lundin said. “You never want to give up a shot in the slot, but I had confidence in Smitty and I know it’s better that they get a shot there than a backdoor tap in. I was hoping Cole would try to make a pass so I could have a chance.”
Cole passed it right to Lundin’s stick and the 26-year old defenseman calmly chipped the puck to the corner past Staal. The Lightning held the lead and added an empty netter for a critical 4-2 victory that ended a four-game losing streak.
Lundin, who spent 27 games in the American Hockey League last season, has solidified his spot in the NHL with his subtle, solid play and poise under pressure in a shutdown role. Lundin played 26:01 in the 2-0 victory at Chicago, second only to a shootout win over Florida in January.
“He continues to get better,” Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund said. “He’s a very important part of our hockey team. He’s not a flashy guy. He’s low maintenance. He’s one of those guys that, unless you know hockey, you might not see everything that he brings.”
After making the Lightning at his first professional camp in 2007-08 and missing just one game all season, Lundin had to battle his way back to the NHL by playing 78 games with AHL Norfolk over the next year and a half.
Lundin worked on his game and emerged as the Lightning’s best defenseman the second half of last season. He came into camp last September with confidence.
“I had a positive second half and I just wanted to build on that, be able to play in all situations and keep my confidence going,” Lundin said. “I struggle when I sit back and play less aggressive. It’s always going to be a battle for me, and always something I can work on, to play a little more physical.”
Lundin, at 6-foot-2, 191 pounds, is not going to be drilling top-line forwards into the boards. But his positioning is always solid and he has been very successful in limiting top players from working their magic in the Lightning zone.
Through the early part of the season, Lundin was paired with Pavel Kubina and then re-united with Ohlund, who he played with much of the second half of 2009-10. When he returned from missing 13 games with a mid-body injury, Lundin was playing on the left side with newly-acquired Eric Brewer.
“He was great right away [after the injury],” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “He’s such a smart player. Whether it’s the right side or the left side, being on the wrong side depends on what type of player you are. But if you have great mobility and vision like he does, he covers the ice very well and his gap control is amazing. His biggest asset is his mind. He learns fast.”
It hasn’t been difficult for Lundin to make the switch from the right to the left with Brewer.
“It’s similar in that they both take charge when they’re on the ice,” Lundin said of Ohlund and Brewer. “They’re both very vocal and make it easy for anyone who’s out there with them. [Ohlund] is stepping up more and I’m going back and getting a lot more pucks. With Brew on the right side, he’s been the one going back and getting the pucks.”
Ohlund said Lundin has offensive upside and he will become more of a factor in the scoring column as years go on. He has a goal and 11 assists this season and 33 points in 224 games. He had 45 points in 78 AHL games.
Right now, Lundin is the go-to defensive stopper, averaging almost 28 shifts a game which is slightly behind only Brewer and Victor Hedman. He had 108 blocks during the regular season, fourth on the team, and just 18 turnovers - low among the regular defensemen.
“If you don’t know who he is and you just come out to the game, you don’t see him,” Boucher said. “For a defenseman, that’s actually a great thing.”