Lightning’s Victor Hedman Emerging As Top Candidate For Conn Smythe Trophy

Die-hard hockey fans know that Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman has been a legitimate top-pairing defenseman for a few years.

But thanks to his excellent performance in the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs, specifically the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, the 24-year-old blueliner finally is receiving the recognition from the national media and casual hockey fans that he deserves.

Hedman has tallied 14 points (one goal, 13 assists) in 23 playoff games, the Lightning are controlling 55.54 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts with him on the ice and he’s excelling defensively against the opponent’s top forwards. His most impressive performance of the postseason came in Monday night’s Game 3, when the Lightning took a 2-1 series lead and handed the Blackhawks back-to-back losses for the first time in these playoffs.

Tampa Bay opened the scoring in Game 3 when Ryan Callahan sniped a slap shot past Hawks goaltender Corey Crawford in the first period. Hedman, from behind his own net, unleashed a sensational pass that hit Callahan in stride at the far blue line to set up the scoring chance.

The Lightning build a lot of their success from a good transition game that features breakouts with quick, accurate passes out of the defensive zone, and this pass by Hedman was a prime example.

The Blackhawks eventually evened the score, and the two teams traded goals in a 13-second span early in the third period to set the stage for a dramatic finish. With under four minutes in regulation, Hedman took the puck in the neutral zone, executed a successful entry into the attacking zone and made a beautiful centering pass to Cedric Paquette, who beat Crawford for the go-ahead goal. It was another display of Hedman’s excellent playmaking ability.

In addition to his offensive contributions, Hedman played the majority of his even-strength ice time against Chicago’s best forwards. He totaled seven minutes or more versus Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Brandon Saad and Marian Hossa.

The Blackhawks also dominated the game from a puck possession perspective with a 67-51 advantage in shot attempts at even strength. Despite playing against top competition, Hedman was on the ice for 26 Lightning shot attempts, the most of any player on the team.

These are the types of performances that Hedman is giving Tampa Bay this spring, and a few more likely will result in the franchise’s second Stanley Cup championship.

Expectations were extremely high for Hedman when the Lightning selected him with the No. 2 pick in the 2009 NHL Draft. He didn’t make the same immediate impact that No. 1 pick John Tavares did for the New York Islanders, but it’s quite possible that the Swedish defenseman ends up being the better of the two.

Hedman has become a household name in these playoffs, and while he’s unlikely to be a Norris Trophy finalist this year after missing 23 regular-season games because of injury, the chances of him winning this award are pretty high entering the prime of his career.

Thumbnail photo via Dennis Wierzbicki/USA TODAY Sports Images

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