TAMPA -- For the Tampa Bay Lightning to go deep in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they were going to need their best players to take on an even bigger role with center Steven Stamkos and defenseman Anton Stralman each out because of injury.
Enter Victor Hedman, the 6-foot-6 defenseman who proved he can do just about everything during the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the New York Islanders.
Hedman had four goals, four assists and a plus-6 rating to help the Lightning advance to the conference final with a five-game series win against the Islanders. In Game 5, he played 27:43 and scored two goals for the first multigoal performance in an NHL playoff game in his career.
"He's just a workhorse," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "He has the size. The way he can move with how big he is, he's tough to get around. He can skate with anybody and he's got some offensive talent too. And he's still learning. He's really young. That's the scary thing; he's going to get even better."
It's hard to imagine Hedman playing much better than he did against the Islanders. Besides missing Stralman for the entire series, the Lightning defense also had to deal with the absence of Matthew Carle for Games 2 and 3, but Hedman proved to be a steady force in each game while being paired with several different defensemen. He was on the ice for more than 30 minutes in Game 3 and had a goal and two assists in Tampa Bay's 5-4 overtime win.
Coach Jon Cooper said the experience Hedman gained during the 26 playoff games Tampa Bay played in its run to the Stanley Cup Final last season have been important to the Lightning's run this year because Hedman now knows when he needs to take over a game.
"You look at some of the players that really got put on the big stage last year," Cooper said. "And Hedman was a monster in pretty much all of the [games]. When the big boy is rolling, we feed off that."
Hedman was aggressive offensively Sunday. He scored his first goal in the first period when he jumped into the rush quickly and found himself alone in the high slot with the puck and a clear shot on net.
His second goal came early in the second period on the power play. He's become more of a shooter with the man-advantage recently, allowing forward Jonathan Drouin to take on the quarterbacking duties. Drouin set him up with a backhand pass, and Hedman buried the one-timer.
"I felt good," Hedman said. "Playing on home ice, you want to have that extra jump, and I thought the whole team played fast and we got everyone involved on offense."
Hedman's production in Game 5 showed his ability to stay aggressive in the offensive end and be in the right place at the right time.
But it was his defensive play that really set the tone for the latter games of the series. Hedman led the charge to frustrate Islanders center John Tavares, who was held scoreless for the final four games. Tavares' linemate, Kyle Okposo, did not fare much better, scoring just two points in the entire series.
"I would love to take all the credit, but it's the whole team," said Hedman, who the Lightning selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft after the Islanders took Tavares. "We tried to fill the lanes and eliminate a lot of the scoring chances and keep [Tavares] from being around the net. He's one of the best players in the League, so we had to keep possession of the puck and eliminate time and space. I think we did a good job of that."