TORONTO — Sacrifice is a word that always comes up when the Lightning talk about what it took to win two straight Stanley Cups.
Players fought through injuries — broken bones, torn ligaments — to play for each other through the physically grueling stretch that is the postseason.
And with the Lightning’s season on the line Saturday night, center Brayden Point — arguably the team’s best player in their first-round series against Toronto — tried to play through an apparent lower-body injury.
But he couldn’t. Point is the Lightning’s best and fastest skater, but he was clearly skating on one leg trying to get back into Game 7.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper didn’t have an update following the Lightning’s 2-1 win over the Leafs, but it appears that Point will be out indefinitely as Tampa Bay advances to a second-round matchup with the Florida Panthers.
“Everybody saw what happened,” Cooper said.
Point was chasing a puck toward the side boards in the offensive zone late in the first when Toronto defenseman Mark Giordano made a swipe at the puck. Point’s body twisted awkwardly and his right leg collapsed as he slid into the boards.
Point was in obvious pain, immediately holding his right hip as he fell, writhing on the ice until he got back to his feet and skated off, unable to put weight on his right leg.
Point returned to the bench for the beginning of the second period, and he took one 25-second shift 1:53 into the period, but clearly wasn’t okay.
Point appeared in pain making a clear attempt and trying to skate up ice. He didn’t skate another shift.
“He gave it a go,” Cooper said. “He was not going to the room. He was going to stay on the bench the whole time, but he couldn’t go.”
Point remained on the Lightning bench throughout, studying a tablet to give teammates feedback and cheering on his teammates from the sideline.
“Everyone wants to be in the fight,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “It doesn’t matter how many shifts you get, or if you’re not playing at all. ... His presence on the bench, it was a great motivator. Even with the D, he was back there cheering us on. That goes a long way and it says everything about our group. We’re a close-knit group. We’ve been through a lot together and it’s a great feeling coming out on top.”
Point, who scored a league-high 28 goals combined in the previous two postseasons, had been exceptional on both ends of the ice in this year’s first-round playoff series. He anchored a line tasked with neutralizing Toronto top-line threats Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
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Even though Point hasn’t been on the goal pace he’s had the the past two postseasons, he has used his speed to play a dominating 200-foot game, and he was rewarded with the biggest goal of the Lightning’s postseason, an overtime game-winner in Game 6 on Thursday night at Amalie Arena.
Before exiting Saturday’s game, Point drove the Lightning’s pace with his speed. On the Lightning’s first power play, he made a play in the corner with his stick to prevent Toronto from getting the puck out of Toronto zone, helping the Lightning keep possession and establish zone time.
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