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Timing couldn’t be better for Brayden Point’s return to Lightning lineup

Tampa Bay’s top center, who has been out since Nov. 20 with a shoulder injury, returns as COVID ravages the roster.
Lightning center Brayden Point, who has missed 14 games with a shoulder injury, will be back in the lineup tonight against the Canadiens.
Lightning center Brayden Point, who has missed 14 games with a shoulder injury, will be back in the lineup tonight against the Canadiens. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Dec. 28, 2021

TAMPA — Even after slamming shoulder first into the boards, Brayden Point thought he would be okay to finish out the game against the Devils on Nov. 20.

Initially all Point could focus on was the pain when New Jersey’s Ryan Graves tripped him. But the Lightning’s top center found the strength to take his awarded penalty shot — missing it — and skate through the final 10 minutes.

After the 5-3 loss, his banged-up shoulder would need more care than just an ice bag and good night’s rest. He sat out the next five weeks — and 14 games.

“You’re just in it and you’re competing and I think as a hockey player, you want to finish the game and I felt like I could,” Point said Monday after practice in his first availability since the injury.

Point is set to return to the team’s depleted lineup tonight against Montreal. He provides an immediate boost to the locker room, but it’s also a timely move given fellow centerman Anthony Cirelli is in COVID-19 protocol with five other Tampa Bay players and two coaches — the team’s first coronavirus outbreak of the season.

“(I’m) feeling pretty good, still a little rusty … but excited to be taking full reps in practice,” Point said. “I’m really, really looking forward to getting back playing.”

During his time away from the ice, Point was able to talk shop with Nikita Kucherov, who has been sidelined since Oct. 19 with a lower-body injury. Kucherov isn’t expected to return until after the new year and hasn’t been a full participant at practices.

Kucherov’s maestro-like abilities on the ice are hard to overlook. When healthy, he and Point skate on the team’s top line and play together on the first power-play unit (Kucherov on the right half wall and Point in the slot).

In 2019-20, the pair combined for 67 points en route to the team’s second-ever Stanley Cup. In last season’s playoff run — which resulted in another Cup — they fed off each other’s offensive game to combine for 55 points in 23 games.

“Obviously sitting out with Kuch, he’s got so much insight,” Point said. “It was good to pick his brain.”

Point, 25, hadn’t missed playing time like this since his offseason hip surgery in the spring of 2019. That procedure kept him away from competing that summer and through the start of the season.

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Point said he hasn’t felt rushed to return because “a lot of guys (are) stepping up” in key moments. Entering tonight’s game against the Canadiens, the Lightning are 11-2-1 since Nov. 21 (the first game Point missed).

“Sometimes I think when teams are winning, it makes it easier (to take your time returning),” he said. “I think trying to get healthy (is important) and the main goal is being healthy come playoff push. It wasn’t so bad for me (to wait).”

Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

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