Victor Hedman has grown into a beast of an NHL player over the last few seasons, and the Tampa Bay Lightning's five-game second round series win over the New York Islanders was just the latest reflection of that.
He has become the classic, all-zone, minute-munching, two-way #1 defenseman every team dreams of having.
In the series with the Islanders, not only was Hedman a major reason Islanders franchise star John Tavares was held in check, but he also provided critical offense (four goals, four assists) and logged nearly 28 minutes per game. His two goals in Game 5 helped deliver the final blow to the Islanders' season.
All of this came, mind you, with the Lightning blueline depleted by injuries to Matt Carle and Anton Stralman, the latter who has missed the entire playoffs so far. Those injuries -- and add Steven Stamkos' absence up front -- haven't kept the Lightning from being the fastest team to make it to the conference finals, winning both of its series in just five games.
The classic approach to reduce the impact of a defenseman like Hedman is to hit him, hit him a lot, slow him down, and make sure he feels the wear and tear of all those minutes under playoff conditions, maybe hesitates just a bit more the next time he goes back to retrieve the puck.
But as Islanders winger and annual NHL hits leader Matt Martin explained after Game 5, that's easier said than done with the giant and agile 6'6" Hedman:
"He’s a dynamic player, one of the best defensemen in the league, extremely mobile for a big man. You know, [that makes him] very hard to play against.
"For me, you want to try and be physical, but he’s a guy who’s going to turn you trying to be physical into him being up the ice. It makes you think a little bit. The dynamic he brings to their team is a big one.
"Like I said, he’s one of the best defensemen in the league."
And as in last year's run to the Stanley Cup finals, Hedman is in full beast mode.
Martin Faces Free Agency
As with the Islanders' other free agents, there was also talk of what might have been, and whether this is the end of his time with the Islanders. He said he hadn't thought much about it yet, but this team environment isn't one he's itching to leave behind:
"This was a lot of fun this year, with this group of guys. I love this team, I love this group. We wanted to go farther. It stinks. It’s hard. Everything beyond this point, I don’t know what the future holds. Right now I just want to spend time with the guys and, I guess try to get over this.
"It’s an honor being an Islander. I’ve been here seven years or whatever it’s been, but I’ve loved every second of it.
"It’s a building block, sure, but we wanted much more. We expected more. That’s a sign of our maturity that winning one round doesn’t really mean much to us…but credit to [the Lightning]."
Here's the full video of Martin's post-game answers for reporters, via MSG: