Before the postseason gets too deep, before Lord Stanley’s Cup starts showing up at arenas, can we please take a moment to appreciate Brayden Point?
On a team flush with scorers, no one finds the back of the net with greater regularity in the postseason than Point.
Not Nikita Kucherov, not Steven Stamkos, not Ondrej Palat. For that matter, not Alex Ovechkin, not Connor McDavid, not Auston Matthews. Point is tied with Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon for the NHL lead in goals this postseason, which shouldn’t be a surprise because he has more goals in the postseason than anyone in the NHL in the last four years.
He was at it again Tuesday night in Tampa Bay’s series-clinching 2-0 victory against Carolina in Game 5.
The score was tied at zero, the shot totals favored the Hurricanes and the crowd in Raleigh, N.C., seemed to be anticipating imminent glory when Point completely changed the storyline five minutes into the second period. He took a pass from Alex Killorn to the left of the net and, with a bit of nifty puck work, created his own opening past goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic.
Tampa Bay had the lead, the momentum and, eventually, the series.
“Well, you can see it’s not a fluke,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “He’s a heck of a player, and he’s been like that in juniors, he was like that for Team Canada in world juniors and he’s showing that in the NHL. He’s got the heart of a lion, he can play the game at a fast pace. There are a lot of players on this team that do big things in big moments, and the moment is just (never) too big for him. He just continues to deliver for us.”
In 2018 when the Lightning reached the Eastern Conference final, Point tied for the team lead in goals with Stamkos and Kucherov. That was at age 22. In 2020, when the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, he led the entire NHL in postseason goals. That was at age 24.
Now, at age 25, he has upped his game. His goal against the Hurricanes on Tuesday gave him eight in his first 11 games of the 2021 playoffs, which is his quickest pace yet. He’s averaging 0.55 goals per game in his postseason career, which is better than any 25-year-old has done (minimum of 50 playoff games) in the 2000s.
We know this, we see this, but I’m not sure we always appreciate it.
Kucherov is the flashier playmaker, and Stamkos is the sentimental favorite. Victor Hedman is the defenseman with the big shot, and Pat Maroon is the mischievous ringleader. Point? He’s just the guy who comes up with big goal after big goal.
He is, in some ways, this generation’s Marty St. Louis. A smallish player who learned to make up for that potential shortcoming with uncanny speed and determination. Point wasn’t chosen until the third round of the 2014 draft but has already outscored 76 of the 78 players chosen ahead of him.
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If you want to understand the beauty of Point’s game, go back and look at Tuesday night’s goal. Killorn sent a pass across the center of the ice and Point received it on his backhand. He shifted to his forehand, which got Nedeljkovic moving one direction, and then quickly returned to the backhand. At this point, Nedeljkovic was hopelessly out of position and Point simply flipped the puck between the corner post and the goaltender’s right shoulder.
“Killer makes a great play just to battle and even get it over to me,” Point said. “You get it on your backhand — I just want to try to make a play — so I go to my forehand, and the goalie has got me. I make a move to the backhand. It’s just kind of reaction. I was lucky enough it went in.”
Lucky? Hardly. Lightning fans have gotten used to those moments, and so have NHL defenders the past five seasons. At 17.3 percent, Point has the best shot percentage in Tampa Bay history.
Now that the Lightning have moved on to the NHL’s final four, there will surely be bigger moments to come for other players this postseason. Maybe for Palat, who has a knack for game-winning goals. Maybe for Killorn, whose game seems to grow at do-or-die time. Maybe for Hedman, who edged Point for the Conn Smythe Trophy last postseason.
But keep watching the Lightning play, and I can almost guarantee Brayden Point will amaze you again.
John Romano can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.
Most NHL postseason goals since 2017-18:
Brayden Point, Tampa Bay: 30 goals in 55 games
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado: 26 goals in 42 games
Brad Marchand, Boston: 26 goals in 59 games
Alex Ovechkin, Washington: 25 goals in 44 games
David Pastrnak, Boston: 25 goals in 56 games
Patrice Bergeron, Boston: 21 goals in 58 games
Brayden Point is 25 years old and averaging .55 goals per game for his career in the postseason. At that age, there are only a handful of players who were scoring at that rate with at least 50 playoff games under their belts. And almost all of them are Hall of Famers.
Wayne Gretzky*: .80 from 1979-86
Mike Bossy*: .74 from 1977-82
Jari Kurri*: .65 from 1980-86
Cam Neely*: .61 from 1983-91
Denis Savard*: .59 from 1980-87
Pavel Bure*: .57 from 1991-95
Steve Payne: .55 from 1979-84
Brayden Point: .55 from 2017-21
* Denotes Hall of Famer
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