TAMPA — When Lightning center Brayden Point keeps his legs moving, he’s arguably the fastest player on the ice. And when he’s playing his fastest, his teammates often have little choice but to follow suit.
Players with speed like Point can dictate the pace of the game, and it’s not coincidental that during the Lightning’s three-game losing streak, Point struggled to find space and scoring opportunities. And the Lightning looked sluggish.
It’s also not by chance that the Lightning played with much better tempo in their 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday night at Amalie Arena. And Point was in the middle of it, scoring twice, once on the power play and the winner with 4:06 remaining in the third.
Point is second on the team with 15 goals, one shy of Steven Stamkos’ team lead, but has gone through some long scoreless stretches. From mid-February into the first week of March (a span of 11 games) he scored just one goal despite having a lot of opportunities (26 total shots).
Going into Thursday’s game, Point had been scoreless in the previous four and struggled to find his shots. He has just three on goal and seven shot attempts over those four games.
On Thursday, Point had four attempts, capitalizing on two.
“He had the puck a lot and when he does have it a lot, good things usually happen,” coach Jon Cooper said. “I think his point totals could have been much higher in the first 15 or 20 games in the year. I thought it was a little unlucky. But I think we’ve played a lot of hockey and pucks haven’t been going in as easily, and it can be frustrating.”
The Lightning spent Wednesday’s practice, their first full one in three weeks, focusing on getting better offensive opportunities. Cooper picked spots to give the team rest with off days and optional skates, and Thursday the Lightning had their legs back. In the first period, Point’s first line, centering Ondrej Palat and Yanni Gourde, played fast.
“I think that’s the biggest thing,” Point said. “I felt like I had some jump and you know I thought our team had some jump and when we’re skating, that’s when we’re creating chances and I thought we had a lot of zone time.”
Point broke out of his scoring drought with a power play goal in the first period. He patiently kicked a puck back to Stamkos at the top of the left circle, then got a better look on a feed from Stamkos below the circle, burying a one-timer for his fourth power play goal of the year.
Columbus dominated zone time in the second period until a power play late opened up opportunities for the Lightning. Point hit the post on the power play, as did Stamkos, one of four the Lightning hit down the stretch.
“You can look at it two ways,” Point said. “You can look at it like it’s not going your way or you can look at that you’re getting good chances to score. ... I think we just try to stay positive and you get the results.”
And with the score tied at two inside the final five minutes of regulation, Point led a 2-on-1 rush, paired on a line with Tyler Johnson, and his pass attempt across the crease hit off defenseman David Savard’s stick and into the net for the winner.
“You’ve just got to keep working to come out of these (droughts) and it paid off,” Cooper said. “
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.