ELMONT, NY — Victor Hedman likes playing in afternoon games because he knows his family and friends can watch him play in prime time back home in Sweden, where they’re six hours ahead of the US East Coast.
The past two days, they’ve seen a lot of the Lightning defenseman, who scored a tying goal that energized Tampa Bay in a 4-1 win over the Islanders on Sunday afternoon. In completing a four-game trip with wins on back-to-back days, Hedman logged more than 50 minutes of ice time over the last two games.
“It’s fun to play these early games because you know a lot of people back home are watching,” said Hedman, whose 18th goal of the season, which tied the score at 1 in the second period, was a career high. “Always nice to get a goal, also.”
The Lightning (41-18-6) ended their trip — and a stretch of 11 games in 11 cities that took them across two countries and four time zones — 5-6-0 overall.
The Lightning finish their regular-season schedule with 12 of 17 games at Amalie Arena.
Against an Islanders team they know well — the Lightning eliminated New York in the past two postseasons — Tampa Bay arguably played its best game in several weeks. It matched the Islanders’ physicality, came from behind and padded a lead late.
Hedman scored 1:10 into the second period with six seconds left on a power play, giving Tampa Bay three man-advantage goals in the past two games after going 3-for-28 in the previous nine. The Lightning penalty kill is 13-for-13 over its past three games while incorporating newcomers Brandon Hagel and Nick Paul.
“I tell the guys all the time, bring two things to the rink — work ethic and preparation — and everything else will take care of itself,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I think it was big that our special teams have kicked in a bit and they got a little momentum off that, and the (penalty kill) has been outstanding.”
While the Lightning’s top scorers have struggled of late, Hedman has picked up the load. He has seven goals in March, his most for any month, and is among the league leaders for defensemen in March.
With defenseman Ryan McDonagh out indefinitely with an upper-body injury and missing his second straight game Sunday, defensemen played a key role against New York. Cal Foote had four hits and a key second-period block on defenseman Noah Dobson’s slap shot from the slot. The Lightning survived that wave and took the lead on Alex Killorn’s goal 9:47 into the second.
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“When some of your go-to guys (are out) — (McDonagh is) a go-to guy for us — that’s why you have depth, and (Foote has) come in for us,” Cooper said. “I thought he was outstanding (Sunday). On the back end, all the other guys played well.”
Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev helped the Lightning pad their lead in the third, getting the primary assist on Ross Colton’s goal 9:10 into the period and scoring with 3:04 left in the game.
Islanders goaltender Ilya Sorokin left with an undisclosed injury to open the third and was replaced by Semyon Varlamov.
“We played great when we got the lead,” Sergachev said. “I don’t think (the Islanders) got a lot of chances. We played our game. We kept on scoring and kept on pushing, but not cheating the game. I felt like that was the part that I liked the most.”
The Lightning knew they would get a physical matchup with the Islanders, and they were tested from the first whistle, when 6-foot-10 defenseman Zdeno Chara challenged Anthony Cirelli, then Colton later in the period. Lightning enforcer Pat Maroon and Corey Perry were more than happy to engage when they were challenged early.
“There’s a lot of dislike from the playoffs and stuff,” said Sergachev, who had three of the Lightning’s 17 hits. “I’m sure (the Islanders are) all fine guys, but when the game is speeding up, they’re getting under my skin. They’re tough guys. Obviously.”
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