The Tampa Bay Lightning are expected to win the Stanley Cup. That is the simple truth after a nearly historic season in which the Lightning paced the NHL with an incredible 62-16-4 record. The only ones to score more than 300 goals—they scored 325—the Lightning had an incredible +103 goal differential on the year, routinely blowing out opponents en route to the Presidents Trophy. Still, with all that success there is also pressure to come flying out of the gate in round one of the playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who only clinched a spot on the second last day of the season.
One of the biggest points of that pressure was the status of Victor Hedman, the Norris-winning defenseman that drives the entire bus from the blue line. Hedman hasn’t played since March 30th when he took an awkward hit from Carl Hagelin of the Washington Capitals, and it was unclear if he would be ready for tomorrow’s opening match. That’s no longer a mystery, as head coach Jon Cooper told reporters including Joe Smith of The Athletic that Hedman is expected to play in game one. The defenseman himself told Smith that he feels “fresh” after taking the last few games of the regular season off.
Hedman is already an incredibly important piece of the Lightning, but given that it doesn’t appear as though Anton Stralman will join him on the ice tomorrow evening he’ll become even more so. Hedman, Stralman and Braydon Coburn are the only three defensemen left over from the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals appearance by the Lightning, as the team will rely on some young faces to give them serious contributions. Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta are all expected to be in the lineup for the first game, meaning veterans Hedman, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh will have to really use their experience to slow down the Blue Jackets attack.