Brayden Point has been the Lightning’s best player in this playoff run, but Tampa Bay could be facing time without him.
Point headed to the dressing room in the second period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final Wednesday night after appearing to tweak a hamstring and didn’t return.
The Lightning pulled out a win 2-1 win over the Islanders to take a 2-0 lead in the series at Edmonton.
There was no indication if they would have to continue without Point.
“We all know the character of that kid and what a competitive gamer he is,” coach Jon Cooper said. “So for him not to come back, I know it was tough on him. Clearly it was tough on us as well.”
Point went down awkwardly on a hit late in the first period, then was late to join the team coming out of the intermission.
Five minutes into the second period, Point and Nikita Kucherov raced down the ice on a rush. Point looked fine as he skated into the zone. But as play turned back the other way, Point let up, skating upright, unusual for a player known for his seemingly boundless energy on long shifts.
At the end of the shift, he climbed over the boards awkwardly. Where he usually throws one leg over the boards, then the other, he got up on top on his knees before gingerly climbing down the other side.
He left the game for good after playing two shifts in the second.
In the offseason, Point had surgery on both hips. He missed the first three games of the regular season as he recovered. Since the postseason started last month after an almost five-month season shutdown because of the coronavirus, Point has looked stronger and faster than he did in the regular season.
He leads the Lightning in the postseason with eight goals and 23 points. He scored twice in overtime in the opening round against Columbus and has consistently set the pace for the team.
“Obviously, what he means to our team is pretty clear,” Cooper said.
Forward Blake Coleman said it was important not to do too much and stray from usual roles trying to fill in for Point on Wednesday. He thought the key was to keep it simple, there wasn’t a “secret sauce.”
Point’s speed, vision and shot add a dynamic no one else has been able to produce for the Lightning in this postseason.
There was his goal in Game 1 of the conference final, when Point, late in a shift, beat Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock with a stutter step, then reached around goalie Thomas Greiss to tuck the puck inside the far post.
There was his small stick move to freeze Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo to score in overtime in Game 5 to clinch the first-round series.
Kucherov brings a different version of that dynamic play, as evidenced by his winning goal Wednesday with nine seconds left. He’s second on the Lightning in playoff points, one behind Point, and is playing well, but there’s a gear he hasn’t shown since the restart that he might need to find.
Cooper said Kucherov put the team on his back once it went down to nine forwards Wednesday. The Lightning started the game with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, as they have for much of the playoffs. Forward Alex Killorn was given a game misconduct early in the first period for a hit, so they were down to three lines after Point left.
Anthony Cirelli moved into Point’s spot on the top line with Ondrej Palat and Kucherov. Yanni Gourde centered Barclay Goodrow and Tyler Johnson. Blake Coleman shifted to the fourth line with Pat Maroon as Cedric Paquette moved back to center.
Cirelli plays a different game from Point. He’s a defense-first forward who often matches up against the opponents' top lines. He has only one goal in the plays after being on pace to hit 20 in the regular season for the first time. But Cirelli has also risen to the occasion when presented with an opportunity.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.