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Hedman and Stamkos united in excellence at the Lightning

DENVER– Steven Stamkos describes his bond with his teammate Victor Hedman like that of an old couple, including the little teasing remarks.

But when it counts, the banter gives way to quiet leadership in order to achieve their goal of helping the Tampa Bay Lightning win a third straight Stanley Cup championship.

The team hopes that’s what the duo will do as they try to tie the Stanley Cup Final in Game 2 at the Ball Arena on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; TVAS, CBC, SN, ABC, ESPN+).

“We have a great brotherhood,” Hedman said Friday of his friendship with Stamkos. It’s very special to share all these moments with him.

“That calm confidence comes from our experience. We’ve been through all the ups and downs, and obviously we’ve had a lot of success over the past few years. But that’s what we want to bring to the team. You have to stay calm, even in trying situations.

“We’re a game late, but we know it’s not going to affect our approach, our identity or our personality, in the locker room or at the hotel. »

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The duo continue to be the mainstay of champion teams in Tampa Bay, supporting each other and elevating their game when the other might be in trouble.

Such was the case during the 2020 playoffs, when a lower-body injury kept Stamkos out of all playoffs except for a slim 2:47 in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals. He still managed to take advantage of it by hitting the target in a 5-2 win over the Dallas Stars.

Hedman took over in Stamkos’ absence, and he had 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) in 25 games. His spectacular performance at both ends of the rink earned him the Conn-Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs most valuable player.

The Lightning won the Cup again in 2021 when Hedman (two goals, 16 assists) and Stamkos (eight goals, 10 assists) each had 18 points in 23 games. This year, the two have 15 in 18 playoff games: Stamkos has nine goals and six assists while Hedman has two goals and 13 assists.

“They’re best friends, but they’re also very competitive,” Chris Stamkos, Steven’s father, said Friday. They push each other. They were drafted in consecutive years, so they had to go through some tough times together to learn what it takes to win at this level. »

After Stamkos was selected with the first-ever pick in the 2008 draft, the Lightning selected No. 2 Hedman a year later. They had a tough few years together before Tampa Bay began to build momentum under coach Jon Cooper to reach the Stanley Cup Finals in 2015, where the team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.

A year later, Stamkos made a decision that would be crucial to the fate and future of Hedman and the Lightning.

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Stamkos could have become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2016, and he was courted by many teams, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown team. The Maple Leafs went all out by bringing in Toronto Mayor John Tory and Michael B. Medline, CEO of Canadian Tire at the time, in their recruiting session with Stamkos.

“Since our days in minor hockey, we’ve tried not to make rash decisions and focus on stability,” said Chris Stamkos. He played a lot of minor hockey in Markham (Ontario) because of that mentality. He weighed all of his options, he understood what a great team Tampa had with Victor and other players, and he decided to stay there. He and Victor have been in contact throughout the process. »

On June 29, 2016, Stamkos immediately messaged Hedman after he agreed to an eight-year, $68 million contract with Tampa Bay.

The following July 1, the Lightning announced that Hedman had signed an eight-year contract extension worth $63 million. The collective dream of winning a Stanley Cup continued in Tampa.

“We signed contracts within a dozen hours,” Hedman said. When he texted me and said, “Okay, I’ve decided to stay,” I was relieved and said, “Okay, I can sign a new contract, too.” »

What would have been the fate of the Lightning if Stamkos had gone elsewhere? The Lightning captain isn’t sure, but he admitted he was happy with his decision.

“Who knows what would have happened if I had made a different decision?” asked Stamkos. It was a decision that ultimately benefited both of us.

“We are really happy that he and I were able to see this process through. Now we want it to continue. »

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