WINNIPEG - For Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, it turned out time was on his side.
After Hedman collided with Calgary Flames forward Garnet Hathaway and sustained a lower-body injury on Jan. 11, it was determined Hedman would miss 3-6 weeks.
Fast forward to Tuesday, when Hedman returned to the Lightning lineup after missing five games, one day ahead of the three-week mark, in a 3-1 loss against the Winnipeg Jets at Bell MTS Place.
Hedman, 27, played 25 minutes, the most of any Tampa Bay player, with no points, three hits and two blocked shots. But the Lightning, who own the NHL's best record at 34-13-3, were more impressed with other numbers.
"When it originally happened, I thought everyone was a little bit more worried about the time frame," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "I think we were all pretty happy that it was even in the 3-6 week [frame],
and then you see him come back in three.
"He's a warrior, he's a guy that works extremely hard. With his rehab and everything, he did everything he possibly could, and we're very happy to have him back."
Video: Victor Hedman discusses his injury, All-Star role
Hedman graded himself about average on Tuesday and said he'll have to step up his game when the Lightning continue their western Canada road trip at the Calgary Flames on Thursday (9 p.m. ET; SN360, SUN, NHL.TV), before stops at the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday and at the Edmonton Oilers on Monday.
"It was OK," Hedman said. "I expect better, but I felt good. It was tough tonight. We wanted to win this game and I think we played pretty good in the first [period] and then we kind of folded a little bit.
"It wasn't good enough, from no one. I think [goaltender] Louis [Domingue, who made 34 saves] played great but other than that, we've got way better in this room. Same from me. I expect a lot better in the next game."
The 2016-17 Norris Trophy finalist said he wasn't interested in easing back into the lineup.
"I want to be out there and contributing," Hedman said. "It wasn't the quality minutes tonight, I didn't think, but it was good to get those minutes under my legs and like I said, I expect better out of myself. I thought it was going to be a little rusty after two weeks. But I have high expectations and put pressure on myself to be good every night, and it wasn't up to my standard tonight. I'll refocus and get back at it."
Hedman said despite missing the 2018 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in Tampa because of the injury, he knew last week he was tracking toward an early return.
Video: TBL@COL: Hedman finishes give-and-go with Kucherov
"I felt great this morning, felt great the last week," he said. "There was no question in my mind I was going to play tonight and obviously I'm very happy that I did. I've got to keep going from here, get some practice time in with the guys and get back at it against Calgary."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he may have overused Hedman a little, not because Tampa Bay fell behind 2-1 in the second period, but because defenseman Dan Girardi was limited to three shifts and 2:07 in the first period because an undisclosed injury, and finished with 12:32 of ice time.
"[Hedman] is our best defenseman and he probably had to play more minutes than we had planned," Cooper said. "So we basically had to play the whole first period with five defensemen. But he's missed three weeks, so it takes a little time to get back in the game. For missing that long, he's a big part of our team, but he was fine tonight."
Cooper said he was not surprised his top defenseman returned as quickly as he did.
"I'm not a doctor," he said. "I sit there and listen what they tell me. We're just glad he came back, that's for sure."