DENVER — Lightning center Brayden Point, out of action for a month with a lower-body injury, gave the team an instant lift with his return in the Stanley Cup final Wednesday night.
The 26-year-old, in his sixth season, had been sidelined since a May 14 injury sustained in Game 7 of the opening-round series against Toronto. His return had been rumored but uncertain for several weeks. He played 17:59 Wednesday and made an impact early. With Tampa Bay down 2-0 in the first period, he assisted on Nick Paul’s goal at 12:26.
“Whenever we get him back in the lineup it’s always huge,” said teammate Alex Killorn, adding that having Point on the ice gives the Lightning a skater who can match the Avalanche’s speed.
During each of the past two Stanley Cup-winning seasons, Point has led the team and the league with 14 postseason goals. Last season, he scored six more playoff goals than any other NHL player.
“Point helps our team,” coach Jon Cooper said after the tough 4-3 overtime loss. “Is Brayden Point the Brayden Point before his injury? Probably not. But that is his first game in well over a month, and he played the fastest team in the league. So it was a tough one to jump into. But I thought he was great.”
Point, who took a stick to the face which drew a penalty from Logan O’Connor at 5:28 of the third period, was not made available for a postgame interview.
“It was great for him to get back, and to see him out there,” captain Steven Stamkos said.
Point did not see action in the short overtime.
Yeah, we’ll talk later
This was no tearful homecoming for Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The Lightning forward may have spent the previous two seasons playing for the Avalanche, but he said he had no plans to reach out to his former teammates during the series. “No, no, no, no,” Bellemare said, when asked if he had contact with any Colorado players.
“To be honest, when you’re in the playoffs, you kind of focus on what you’ve got to do. I have a lot of things to focus on with myself so I didn’t really check the other team. I’m not really the kind of guy who watches a lot of hockey when I’m at home. It’s not like we’ve been texting each other through the whole run. It’s the playoffs. You focus on your own room.”
Although when he got in a scuffle in the second period, Bellemare at least picked out Nicolas Aube-Kubel, who wasn’t in Colorado last year.
Good grief, are we doing this again?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took exception to the suggestion that the Lightning used long-term injury reserve, and Nikita Kucherov’s surgery last season, as a loophole to stay under the salary cap. “I don’t think they’ve been using loopholes,” Bettman said.
“They’ve been using the agreement as it’s been drafted. I think that’s an unfair characterization … They’re using effective cap management. Everybody is operating under the same agreement.”
The Lightning, like a lot of other teams, have traded younger players to acquire injured players that are placed on the long-term injury reserve for cap relief. “I see all 32 clubs operate,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. “I can tell you Tampa would not be one I would put at the top of the list.”
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
NHL will not send the Cup to Russia
The long-standing tradition of players getting a day to bring the Stanley Cup home will be suspended temporarily for players of Russian and Belarusian descent, according to Daly.
“We made both clubs aware already, with respect to this summer, the Cup isn’t going to Russia or Belarus,” Daly said. “To the extent we may owe (players) a Cup trip in the future, that can happen, just like we’ve done with the pandemic. But it’s not happening this summer.”
Should the Lightning win the Cup, that would affect Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Mikhail Sergachev.
Why so late?
If both your hockey biological clock and the calendar indicate that it’s a little late in the year for playoffs, that’s basically true.
Only two Stanley Cup finals have ever started later than June 15, and not surprisingly those were the other COVID-impacted playoff years of 2020 and 2021. Only seven finals series in NHL history have ever gone beyond June 15.
It’s been a tough three years, with travel issues, rescheduled games and tweaked playoff schedules, Bettman noted. He said he’s looking forward to starting the 2022-23 season on time on Oct. 11. Bettman said it has been the determination of the owners, cooperation of the players and steadiness of longstanding corporate partners that have gotten the league through the “last three tumultuous seasons.”
He added that next season’s schedule will be released in early July.
• • •
Sign up for Lightning Strikes, a weekly newsletter from Bolts beat writer Eduardo A. Encina that brings you closer to the ice.