TAMPA — This time last year, C Brayden Point was in juniors with Moose Jaw, preparing for the playoffs.
On Sunday, Point, 21, wrapped up his month-long stint as the Lightning's No. 1 center, playing alongside Nikita Kucherov. Point scored two goals, including the winner, in a 4-2 victory in the season finale against Buffalo.
"It's a bit different, that's for sure," Point said. "It's been a fun year. I've got to play with some really great players and got some really great opportunities. I'm happy about that."
So is the Lightning, with Point taking a significant step in his first pro season. Not many expected him to make the team out of training camp, much less become one of Tampa Bay's most consistent players. Point finished with 18 goals in 68 games, one behind C Tyler Johnson. Thirteen of Point's goals came during the Lightning's 19-6-5 run to end the season, nearly propelling Tampa Bay to the playoffs.
"I'm just so impressed that somebody that young (21) and a little bit undersized (listed at 5 feet 10, 166 pounds) can come in," coach Jon Cooper said. "A lot of guys put the team on their back the last few months. But (Point's) growth has been phenomenal. It's just a committed kid. There are not enough guys like him, I'll tell you that."
First Period—1, Buffalo, Carrier 5 (Bogosian, Nylander), 13:56. Penalties—None.
Second Period—2, Tampa Bay, Point 17 (Hedman, Dotchin), 5:59. 3, Tampa Bay, Coburn 5 (Namestnikov, Killorn), 12:20 (sh). Penalties—Eichel, BUF, (slashing), 7:12; Brown, TB, (high sticking), 10:26; Girgensons, BUF, (slashing), 12:45; Carrier, BUF, (boarding), 14:58.
Third Period—4, Buffalo, Kane 28 (O'reilly, Gionta), 11:17. 5, Tampa Bay, Point 18 (Stralman, Kucherov), 18:36. 6, Tampa Bay, Hedman 16 (Point, Stralman), 19:59. Penalties—None. Shots on Goal—Buffalo 7-5-16—28. Tampa Bay 13-14-10—37. Power-play opportunities—Buffalo 0 of 1; Tampa Bay 0 of 3. Goalies—Buffalo, Ullmark 0-1-0 (36 shots-33 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 23-17-7 (28-26). A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:27. Referees—Marc Joannette, Jon Mclsaac. Linesmen—Jonny Murray, Tony Sericolo.
Number of the day
49 Times in 82 games the Lightning allowed the first goal, including Sunday
Quote of the day
"It stings to stand here knowing that the next time I'm doing this is five months from now."
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, during his postgame news conference
The Lightning expects to send a half-dozen players to AHL Syracuse for the Crunch's playoff run. Wings Michael Bournival and Joel Vermin were reassigned before Sunday's game. Forwards Cory Conacher, Yanni Gourde and Adam Erne will also likely go, along with center Gabriel Dumont, who must clear waivers first. Defenseman Jake Dotchin might go, too.
• Kudos to the Lightning for not sitting its regulars in Sunday's meaningless finale. Even G Andrei Vasilevskiy started his fourth game in six nights. The only lineup change was F J.T. Brown in for F Michael Bournival, who was sent to AHL Syracuse for its playoffs.
• F Jonathan Drouin could have scored four goals Sunday night against Buffalo. He was the most dangerous player on the ice with six shots. Though he finished the season with 21 goals, a 30- to 35-goal season next year wouldn't be a stretch.
• GM Steve Yzerman was in Detroit for the last game at Joe Louis Arena, which is closing. That's not surprising, considering Yzerman is a Red Wings icon. Red Wings fans chanted "Come home, Stevie!" at him.
• Sunday might have been the final game in a Lightning uniform for several players. F Gabriel Dumont, F Yanni Gourde, F Cory Conacher, D Luke Witkowski, G Peter Budaj and F Gregg McKegg can be unrestricted free agents this summer. C Vladislav Namestnikov could be taken in June's expansion draft by Vegas.
• D Victor Hedman finished with 72 points. Would have to think he has put himself in the conversation for the Norris Trophy for the league's top defenseman. At least he has in my book.
• That D Braydon Coburn finished with more goals (five) than forwards Cedric Paquette (four) and J.T. Brown (three) underscores the importance of the Lightning finding secondary scoring for next season.
Joe Smith can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.