On Point: Center fuels Lightning bid to Cup title repeat bid
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Brayden Point isn’t the biggest name among stars in the NHL playoffs, though it is difficult to imagine the Tampa Bay Lightning being where they are without him shining so bright.
No one has scored more goals over the past four postseasons, and the 25-year-old center has a knack for delivering when the defending Stanley Cup champions need it most.
“There are certain guys that have got that `it’ factor,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Pointer’s one of those guys.”
With linemate Nikita Kucherov back in the lineup after missing the entire regular season and Point playing as well as ever, the Lightning rolled through the first two rounds of the playoffs to reach the Stanley Cup semifinals for the fifth time in seven years.
Point scored his league-leading ninth goal of the postseason during Sunday’s 2-1 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of a rematch of the 2020 Eastern Conference final. Game 2 is Tuesday night, with the Lightning facing a series deficit for the first time since dropping the opener of last year’s Stanley Cup Final against Dallas.
Point has six goals in Tampa Bay’s past seven games, including the third series-clincher of his career against Carolina in the second round. The barrage comes on the heels of scoring a franchise-record 14 during last year’s title run in the NHL bubble and gives him 31 playoff goals since 2018.
“You can see it’s not a fluke. He’s a heck of a player, and he’s been like that in juniors, he was like that for Team Canada and in world juniors, and he’s been like that in the NHL,” Cooper said.
“There are a lot of players on this team that do big things in big moments,” the coach added. “The moment’s not too big for him. He just continues to deliver for us.”
Kucherov’s return has given Tampa Bay a charge offensively, particularly on the power play, where the Lightning have converted nearly 42% of their opportunities. The leading scorer from last year’s playoffs has a league-leading 19 points (five goals, 14 assists) in 12 games, six more than Point (9, 4), Alex Killiorn (6,7) and Steven Stamkos (5, 8).
“It takes everyone in the playoffs,” Point said. “Everyone has their moments.”
No one’s been more clutch than Point, who led the Lightning in goals (23) and points (48) during the regular season for the first time.
“He is up there with some of the best players in the National Hockey League,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz, whose teams have faced Point in the semifinals three of the past four seasons.
“He is undervalued in my opinion,” Trotz added. “He’s a really good player. ... You look at his points per game in the playoffs, it’s higher than it is in probably the regular season, and he has pretty good totals. He’s a big-game player that probably doesn’t get enough credit.”
Islanders center Mathew Barzal has taken notice, too, saying Point is “awesome to watch.”
“I don’t think there’s anything in his game that you can’t like,” Barzal said.
“I think he’s probably the ‘dartiest’ player in the NHL, just in terms of moving his feet off battles and jumping into holes and whatnot,” Barzal added. “So he’s super fun to watch, and definitely when I watch him I try to pick things out that maybe I can bring into my game.”
Kucherov is widely regarded as one of the best players in the NHL, Stamkos has been a scoring champion, defenseman Victor Hedman is elite and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is a Vezina Trophy finalist. Point fits right in with that group of Tampa Bay stars.
“I think the thing that stands out is obviously Pointer’s speed, kind of the opposite of Kuch. Kuch really slows the game down, and Pointer just pushes the pace as good as anyone in the league,” Stamkos said.
“But I think the thing that separates Pointer is how clutch he’s become for our team. In big moments he seems to rise to the occasion,” the Lightning captain added. “That’s the mark of a really elite player.”
Point embraces the challenge of doing whatever’s necessary to win.
“It’s why we play the game to be in those situations, where your shift could mean the difference between a win or a loss, or a simple back check or forecheck can swing momentum of the game,” he said. “The stakes are raised, and it’s just the competitiveness. We have a lot of that in our room.”
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