TAMPA — The Lightning know the kind of jaw-dropping plays Brayden Point can make with the puck on his stick because they’ve seen so many examples of it before, but that doesn’t take away from how special those moments are when they happen.
That was the case on Saturday night, when the Lightning had so much energy in the building at Amalie Arena while playing their first game in front of fans this season and raising their Stanley Cup banner into the rafters. It was also Point’s 25th birthday.
And with a late second-period goal that proved to be the winning score in the Lightning’s 6-3 win over the Nashville Predators, Point gave the fans and his teammates something to talk about.
“When you’ve got 15 NHL players kicking each other on the bench like, ‘Did you see that?’ you know you’ve got a special talent,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. “You don’t defend it. He’s going to make anybody look tough with that. He’s another level of special when he’s carrying the puck up the ice.”
With the Lightning up two inside two minutes in the second period, Point took a chip pass from Mikhail Sergachev in the neutral zone and had open space in front of him but still three Nashville defenders between him and the net.
Skating along the left side, Point cut to his right and across the high slot, skating through one failed poke check and then leaving rookie Frederic Allard a step behind as he reached the top of the right circle, where he flung a wrister that cut through three Nashville skaters and over goaltender Pekka Rinne’s right shoulder.
“I think he does a similar play like that like almost every other game,” Lightning forward Alex Killorn said. “It’s just whether or not he scores. I think it’s tough for D-men because the reason he’s able to do that is because they give him a gap because they’re worried about him skating by them. But even if you give him too much room, it could hurt you the other way.”
“He’s a special player, he’s a great skater,” Killorn added. “And I know he was pretty happy to score that one. It seemed like he had a little bit more enthusiasm with his celebration than he typically does.”
The play itself was an example of how quickly Point can use his creativity, speed and stickwork to create space despite knowing defenses are collapsing on him. At times this season, it’s been difficult for Point to find that space. But Point is now showing signs of finding his comfort zone. Saturday’s game marked his third straight with a goal, and he has six points in his last five games.
Point said the new division realignment matches the Lightning with a lot of tight checking teams, and the Lightning have had to adjust to that this season.
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“The style of hockey (in the Central Division) is to try to take away time and space from guys and I think the biggest thing is you can’t get frustrated,” Point said. “I think you’ve just got to step back and realize that’s just kind of the way our division plays and that’s kind of the way the season’s going to go. So just try some things, try to throw some pucks to the net, try to get some greasy ones. I don’t think the perfect play is always going to be there this year.”
Though Point’s goal on Saturday seemed to be as perfectly played as it could be. And when Point is in the middle of the Lightning’s offense, it’s a good omen.
“Pointer always drives the bus,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Saturday’s game. “He gives us energy, and as you can see, when he’s got the puck on his stick, he’s a pretty tough guy to defend. He’s put himself in the position to score and get other guys points, they just haven’t gone in. But in these long seasons, eventually that comes around if you keep doing the right things and Pointer has.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.
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