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Five Questions With...

Five Questions with Victor Hedman

Lightning defenseman talks individual success, push to make Stanley Cup Playoffs

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.

The latest edition features Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman:

 

NEW YORK -- Ben Bishop to the Los Angeles Kings on Feb. 26. Brian Boyle to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Feb. 27. Valtteri Filppula to the Philadelphia Flyers on March 1.

"It was a tough few days losing three cornerstone guys, guys who were a huge reason we had success in the past," Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.

Hedman, 26 and in his eighth NHL season, all with the Lightning, hated what was happening to his team in the run-up to the 2017 NHL Trade Deadline, but he understood it.

Friends and teammates who helped him and the Lightning reach the Stanley Cup Final two years ago and get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final last season were getting shipped out for two reasons:

The Lightning were inconsistent and they desperately needed salary-cap flexibility.

"But we're not giving up," Hedman said. "That's the message we got. It's a tough business with salary cap issues and stuff like that. We get that. It's tough to see those guys go, but the mentality wasn't that we are giving up."

And the Lightning have not despite those trades and a rash of injuries, including losing three centers -- Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Vladislav Namestnikov -- to lower-body injuries in the same game, against the Minnesota Wild last Thursday.

The Lightning won that game 4-1. They followed it with a 3-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Saturday despite dressing six rookies, and defeated the New York Rangers 3-2 at Madison Square Garden on Monday. They are 11-2-3 in their past 16 games and one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"We just have to keep pushing," Hedman said. "That's what we've been doing. That's what we have to keep doing and we'll see where it takes us."

Hedman has pushed all season. He's pushed for more production and ice time, and he's gotten it. He has an NHL career-high 58 points in 65 games. His 27 points on the power play are one behind Phil Kessel of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Claude Giroux of the Philadelphia Flyers for the most in the League and nearly double his previous NHL career high of 14. He is averaging a career-high 24:12 of ice time.

Hedman spoke to NHL.com about his season and dealing with the Lightning's inconsistencies and what's in store for them the rest of the way prior to playing the Rangers on Monday.

Here are Five Questions with … Victor Hedman:

Have you changed anything this season to produce more, especially after seeing Steven Stamkos go out and understanding the need for more offense from the back end?

"For me I've been in more of a shooting mode this year. Obviously on the power play I feel more comfortable. I get a lot of opportunity and play with some really, really talented players and sometimes you just have to make plays and put it in there where they can score, but for me now it's about finding seams and keeping a shooting mentality. You have to be a threat. You have to let the opposition know you're going to be a shooter. That's going to open up other plays and create scrambles in front of the net. For me it's been attacking mode. I take responsibility and produce. We need that down the stretch. We need that from the guys that play the big minutes on the power play. We need to perform. We need to produce. We put the pressure on ourselves to be the ones that lead out there."

Why do you have a different mentality when it comes to shooting this year?

"That's a good question. Obviously our power play has struggled the past few years and this year we took it to another level. It's just a little bit of a different mindset on the power play and you have to give a lot of props to the coaching staff and with Richie [assistant coach Todd Richards] coming in this year, focusing on the power play a lot. He has kept things simple but he's made it very clear what we're going to have to do out there to be successful and for me that's to be able to keep shooting. Everyone emphasizes shooting, but at times it's tough because you have Stammer [Stamkos] and Kuch [Nikita Kucherov] and you want to put them in those shooting areas as much as possible. But being able to open that up you have to be able to shoot yourself and that's what I've been focusing on, especially last summer and coming into this year, to be more of a shooting threat. You have to respect that. When you're on the PK yourself you know what units you're out against and you know what threats they have, and if you know the guy up top is a passer only you can play it differently. When you start to shoot more it's going to create more seams and open things up. And with [Stamkos] out, we're missing one of the best shooters in the League, one of the best goal scorers in the League, so you have to be able to spread out the goals a little bit more and spread out the chances and the shots. That's kind of been the focal point."

Video: MIN@TBL: Hedman finishes Drouin's cross-ice feed

Can you enjoy this type of season, the individual success, when your team is inconsistent, going through a lot of ups and downs?

"It has been tough. I can enjoy it if we climb into a playoff spot, but 16 more games to go and for me it's all about getting two points for the team. At the same time I have to produce. I put the pressure on myself to produce, to be productive every game, to be good at both ends of the ice. I have to be one of those guys that produces offensively and keeps the puck out of the net too. That's the focus. We need points."

Should this team be in a better position right now? Should the Lightning be better or are there enough reasons, injuries and erratic goaltending at times being two, to buy into the fact that you are where you belong in the standings now?

"That's the million-dollar question. We're here now. We can't really focus or change what has happened. There's a lot of good teams in this league, but obviously we want to be where we think we belong, and that's being in a playoff spot. But we're here now for a reason and what that reason is a combination of a lot of things, I think. We've had inconsistency in our game throughout the year. We had some injuries that we dealt with. We just haven't played that good as a whole for a long period time until now. Hopefully this will be enough to get us into the playoffs, but there are a lot of teams around us that want to make it as well. It's a Game 7 mentality that we have to have all the way through."

You can look around the room now and see a lot of new faces, a lot of guys who otherwise would be in the American Hockey League. Does it give you pause about if you can make it? Does it make you wonder if you can do it? Or is your belief still strong in spite of the new faces and injuries the team is dealing with?

"Absolutely [we believe]. The depth in this organization with the guys coming up and being so good, they're prepared to play, they're ready to play and they've been playing lights out for us. You have Luke [Witkowski], who has been playing 'D' his whole life, now he's playing forward and doing a tremendous job. We have two great goalies. We're getting the production from the guys that need to produce, but at the same time you get [Yanni] Gourde's first NHL goal was shorthanded, that's playing in all different roles and that's what we're going to need."

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