Running down the list of playoff goal scorers, the same names keep popping up for the Lightning. To some extent, that’s to be expected. But when those players start to look haggard, it’s time for some backup.
Center Brayden Point has missed two of the last three games, both Lightning losses, in the Eastern Conference final against the Islanders at Edmonton. Right wing Nikita Kucherov was banged up and sat out for five minutes of Tuesday’s Game 5 loss. He finished the game, but him skating off the ice in pain was a reminder of a delicate situation for a team that already has been without injured Steven Stamkos for the postseason.
Coach Jon Cooper didn’t share an update on anyone Wednesday. He did say he didn’t think he’d seen the last of Point in the playoffs and the forward could be back for tonight’s Game 6, in which the Lightning, with a 3-2 series lead, can earn a trip to the Stanley Cup final.
The adage says your best players need to be your best players. The Lightning’s have been, but if Point and-or Kucherov play tonight, they might not be at full capacity and could use support.
“We have to find more ways to create more goals,” defenseman Victor Hedman said after the 2-1 double-overtime loss in Game 5.
Already stepping up
Is it fair to call a top-line wing or one of the league’s top offensively minded defensemen depth scoring? Not really.
But neither left wing Ondrej Palat nor Hedman are known for scoring, and they’ve done a lot of that in the playoffs. At least one of them has scored in each game since the start of the conference semifinal against Boston.
Hedman is scoring at double his previous career-high rate. Palat has as many goals in this playoffs, eight, as he did in the 2018-19 regular season.
Left wing Alex Killorn had a great regular season as he passed 20 goals for the first time, and he might have flirted with 30 if the season hadn’t been interrupted because of the coronavirus. But he has been largely missing from the playoffs.
Killorn has four goals in 17 games, a quarter of the rate at which he scored in the regular season. He has often been criticized for being streaky. This is a tough time to prove those critics right.
Forward Tyler Johnson earned his playoff reputation with big performances in the Lightning’s 2015 and ’16 runs. He opened up the round-robin part of this year’s playoffs with two goals in three games, but Johnson has scored only twice in the 15 games since.
Forward Anthony Cirelli has stepped into a bigger offensive role on the second line this season. He was on pace for his first 20-goal season in his second full NHL year. But that kind of production has been lacking in the playoffs. He has two goals in 18 games, none in this series.
The third line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow was the Lightning’s best against the Bruins. But it hasn’t had that same spark against the Islanders.
The line stepped up to Cooper’s challenge in Game 4 against the Islanders. Coleman scored 15 seconds after a bad play had led to the Islanders getting on the board first. The Lightning could use more of that.
Mikhail Sergachev has settled into a stronger presence as a two-way defenseman this year, but he didn’t lose his scoring touch. Hedman has said Sergachev tries things he hasn’t even thought of. One of those came in Game 3 against the Islanders: Sergachev cut across the slot and showed off skilled hands to score. But he has just two goals in the playoffs.
Contact Diana C. Nearhos at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @dianacnearhos.