For Victor Hedman, the Lightning’s elite defenseman, it’s all about control:
Controlling the play.
Controlling a key offensive player (in this case, Islanders captain John Tavares).
And, in a way, controlling himself.
Blessed with remarkable speed, the 6-6, 229-pound Hedman, who was drafted immediately after Tavares in 2009, is emerging as a force that Tampa Bay coaches are very reluctant to rein in.
“Going on leash length, his is fairly . . . it might be unlimited,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the 25-year-old Swede, who is averaging 27 minutes in seven playoff games this spring.
“The one thing you have to control is when his emotions get going. He can play all 200 feet, and if he does make a mistake, he has the ability to come back and make up for it. He’s so competitive, you want to stay on top of that. But we take our chances.
“His positives way outnumber his negatives. It’s almost like he’s trying too hard, he just wants to do so well . . . You have to tell him, ‘Take a breath, you’re rocking it, man.’ ”
After Monday’s practice at Barclays Center before Tuesday night’s Game 3, Cooper discussed a two-on-one in the first-round series against the Red Wings in which Hedman stepped up to disrupt the odd-man rush instead of skating back to defend.
“Nine out of 10 times, you shouldn’t do that,” Cooper said. “But because he has the ability to jump on you that fast, plus the long reach, those are things that he’s allowed to do. When his natural instincts take over, that’s when he’s really effective.”
When was the last time someone tried to rein him in?
“I don’t know, I guess [associate coach Rick] Bowness,” Hedman said. “He’s a very honest coach. I watch a lot of tape, a lot of video. You’ve got to make sure you’re on the right side of the puck.”
Hedman has been effective against Tavares, who had five goals and four assists in the six games against the Panthers. In the first two games of this series in Tampa, Tavares had a goal and an assist.
A large part of Islanders coach Jack Capuano’s strategy in Games 3 and 4 of the best-of-seven series will be to deploy the last change at home to keep Tavares away from Hedman. That might be more difficult than it sounds.
“There are special players in the league that just need to come off for 20 or 30 seconds and can go right back out there,” Cooper said. “The Doughtys, the Keiths, the Karlssons, the guys who can play 30 minutes. There’s not many of them out there, but Heddy’s in that group.”
Without his usual defense partner, Anton Stralman, who has a broken fibula, Braydon Coburn has stepped in and had a chance to see Hedman close up.
“He covers so much ground. He can be in the rush and you see him chase guys down when it comes back the other way, so I don’t have to change my game that much,” said Coburn, a former Flyer.
“He controls the play more so than anybody I’ve played with.”