Undersized Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson coming up big for Lightning

The diminutive forwards have a knack for producing in the postseason's biggest moments.
Tyler Johnson (9) celebrates his second-period goal, along with teammates Brayden Point (21) and  Ryan McDonagh (27). [DIRK SHADD   |   Times ]
Tyler Johnson (9) celebrates his second-period goal, along with teammates Brayden Point (21) and Ryan McDonagh (27). [DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 1, 2018

TAMPA — They are Lightning prototypes, both undersized, both adept at coming up big.

Where do the Lightning get these guys?

One came out of nowhere once upon a time and wrote his playoff name in big letters a few years ago. One came out of the third round and is now making big noise in the postseason.

Here comes Brayden Point, who rejoined this playoff series with Boston in Game 2 with a four-point night that helped even this series heading into Game 3 Wednesday in Boston.

And here, too, is Tyler Johnson, who scored the first goal Monday and who, with Point and Ondrej Palat, took it to the Bruins' line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The Point line was a combined minus-12 in the 6-2 loss in Game 1. It was decimated. It looked in over its head.

Now look.

"Tonight, we answered back," Point said after Game 2.

His line is a factor again.

It's a series again.

Point, after a grisly minus-5 in the series opener, was in on every Lightning score, with three assists and an empty-net goal to seal the must win.

"He's a special player, and when big games come around, special players take over," Johnson said. "I can't say enough about the guy."

Johnson isn't bad at taking over big games, either. He was a major force in the 2015 playoffs, with 13 goals and 23 points. He was always stepping up, Johnny on the spot. The Lightning might have won the Stanley Cup if Johnson hadn't been injured in Game 1 of the final with Chicago.

He has never truly lived up to that 2014-15 season. How could you? He set the bar high. But Johnson still had 17 points in the 2016 playoffs, a point a game. He can still smell the big moments.

So, too, is Point, apparently. The 5-10 Point is in his second NHL season, just as the undrafted, 5-8 Johnson was in the 2015 playoffs, but this is the first postseason for Point. His 32 goals during the season were no accident, but the playoffs are a different kind of beast. He tamed it in Game 2.

Point pointed to Johnson, who dug in and won the majority of his faceoffs, winning most key draws against faceoff master Bergeron. The intensity was back.

"For whatever reason, that slipped in Game 1," Johnson said, "But we got it back. We were just trying to play our game, compete and battle."

Who knows where the Lightning would have been without it, but the guess here is down 0-2. The team's best line, led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, has yet to break through against the Bruins and their goaltender, Tuukka Rask. I have a feeling Kucherov, who dominated New Jersey in the first round, will deliver in Boston. Stamkos? I'm not so sure he's healthy, but it's nothing that lighting a lamp tonight won't remedy.

The Stamkos line will have to keep up with the Point line, which will be busy keeping up with the Bergeron line, which has become a major series subplot.

The Lightning has been here before.

Brayden Point has been here before, at least during the season.

Tyler Johnson has been here before. Playoffs appear to be in his blood.

"There are definitely similarities in rising to the occasion, no question." Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.

"But this is not the first time Brayden Point has done this. … You look at his size and his stature and stuff like that, there is probably a little bit of an underappreciation of what he can bring to the table. But nobody underappreciates the size of his heart, and that's what he's got. Couple that with an unreal skill set, and this is what you get."

Then there is Johnson.

"To me, he's been everything we've asked for and especially in every playoffs we've ever been in and he continued that into last night," Cooper said. "He was the first one to step up and say he didn't have his strongest game in Game 1 and then comes in to Game 2 and that line was great for us and scored a huge goal for us at the time. Another one right out of the Brayden Point playbook, another one that rises to the occasion when needed most."

"I'm excited to be back at this time," Johnson said. "The playoffs are different. They're a lot more fun, a lot more intense. You're just living and dying every day."

"They're playing hard on our top line, not giving them any room," Point said. "And it's up to the other guys to step up."

Point and Johnson weren't the other guys in Game 2.

They were the guys.

It's that time of year, Tyler Johnson time. Maybe Brayden Point time, too.

Where do the Lightning get these guys?

Contact Martin Fennelly at or (813) 731-8029