CHICAGO (AP) — Victor Hedman is throwing a party at the Stanley Cup Final, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are having a great time so far.
Hedman had two assists while hounding Chicago’s elite group of forwards, and the Lightning beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Monday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“To be able to contribute and see how much this means to Tampa is my No. 1 priority,” Hedman said. “Like I said all playoffs, I want to be a difference-maker on the ice on both ends, and it doesn’t matter what type of game it is and what game it is. I always want to try to get better.”
Ryan Callahan, Ondrej Palat and Cedric Paquette scored in Tampa Bay’s second straight win, and Ben Bishop made 36 saves in a gutsy performance after he was questionable coming into the night. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Chicago.
Brad Richards and Brandon Saad scored for the Blackhawks and Corey Crawford finished with 29 stops. Marian Hossa had two assists after he missed a golden opportunity in the first period.
“Just a couple of little bad habits that ended up hurting us,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “We’re all responsible for that.”
Toews and Patrick Kane have seen a lot of Tampa Bay’s top defensive pairing of Hedman and Anton Stralman through the first part of the final, and the two key scorers for the Blackhawks have combined for just one point. Hedman also has contributed two assists in each of the last two games.
“Victor Hedman, what he’s doing, I mean, this is clearly his coming-out party,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “He sets that one up and then makes a big-time play on the winner. He was a monster out there tonight.”
The third consecutive one-goal game in the final was tied at 1 after two periods, and then tied again after the teams exchanged goals in a 13-second burst in the third. But Hedman helped the Lightning take the lead for good when he skated into the corner and made a perfect pass to Paquette in the middle for his third goal of the playoffs with 3:11 remaining, silencing the United Center crowd of 22,336.
“Hedy got the puck at the blue line,” Paquette said. “I just went to the net, he gave it to me. I waited until the goalie couldn’t see the puck.”
After nearly two days’ worth of speculation, Bishop led the Lightning out of the tunnel for warmups and got the start in goal. He participated in the morning skate, but there was no definitive word on his status until he was announced as the starter right before the game.
The 6-foot-7 Bishop left two different times during the third period of Tampa Bay’s 4-3 victory in Game 2 on Saturday night. The team has not provided a reason for his twin departures, but he appeared to be dealing with some sort of groin or leg injury as he struggled to get up and down for much of the night. He shed no light on the situation after Game 3.
“It’s going to take a lot not to play in a Stanley Cup Final game personally,” Bishop said.
The Lightning got the first goal for the fourth straight time when Hedman made a terrific stretch pass to an open Callahan for a big drive over Crawford’s left shoulder at 5:09 of the first.
The Blackhawks dominated the rest of the period. Hossa wasted a prime opportunity when his shot on an open net was wide left as he tumbled to the ice. Teuvo Teravainen also shot it wide on a good look while Bishop struggled to move around the goal.
Tampa Bay defenseman Braydon Coburn was sent off for hooking with 7:18 left, and the Blackhawks capitalized on their first power-play opportunity. With Andrew Shaw lurking in front of the goal, Richards’ big slap shot went off the top of Bishop’s glove and into the net for his third goal of the playoffs.
“I liked their first period,” Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had two empty nets and didn’t capitalize on either one. We still had 1-1. Scored a big power-play goal, got some excitement. The crowd was there. I thought we had a good first, they had a good second. Third was even. Tough loss.”
NOTES: Blackhawks D Johnny Oduya missed the last part of the second, but returned for the start of the third. “We’ll see,” Quenneville said. “We’ll see tomorrow how he presents.” … Blackhawks F Bryan Bickell and rookie D Trevor van Riemsdyk each made their first appearance of the series. Bickell had been sidelined by vertigo, while van Riemsdyk was coming back from surgeries on his left knee and right wrist. It was the first NHL game for van Riemsdyk since Nov. 16. … Nikita Nesterov returned to Tampa Bay’s lineup, giving the Lightning seven active defensemen. Rookie winger Jonathan Drouin was scratched. … It was Richards’ first goal in the Stanley Cup Final since he scored for Tampa Bay in Game 6 of the 2004 series against Calgary.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap
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