TORONTO — Brayden Point’s name doesn’t come up in the national conversation about the league’s top scorers. Even his teammates said he might have had the quietest 50-goal season imaginable this year.
But inside the Lightning locker room, there’s no question they understand how impressive a scorer the 27-year-old top-line center is and how important he is to his team’s success.
They also know they were a different team after Point was injured in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series win over the Maple Leafs last year. The team and fans can only wonder what might have happened had Point been healthy for the Stanley Cup final against the Avalanche.
After Point reached 50 goals in the 2022-23 regular-season finale, becoming the third player in franchise history to reach the milestone, and then added No. 51 on an empty-net goal, coach Jon Cooper said he believed it was Point’s first empty-netter of the season.
He was right.
“That’s pretty telling about the player,” Cooper said. " ‘Pointer’ is just a gamer. And he just doesn’t take shortcuts. The engine’s always going.”
One thing that was holding Point back from reaching 50 goals earlier in his career was his health. This season he played a full 82-game schedule for the first time since 2017-18, and his game never showed signs of fatigue. Point did not go more than two games without a point, a testament to his consistency.
“I’ve been lucky to play every game this year,” Point said before the season finale. “So, that’s nice, and feeling good. Obviously, it makes a big difference. But yeah, I’ve been lucky this year, and knock on wood that that continues.”
Point is quick to credit his teammates, attributing his success to playing with good players who give him the puck in scoring areas. His synergy with right wing Nikita Kucherov, one of the best connections between teammates in the NHL, continues to get better. And the numbers show that Point’s production and the Lightning’s postseason success go hand in hand.
During the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup title runs in 2020 and ‘21, Point’s 28 total goals led all skaters. Last year, he kept the Lightning’s season alive with an overtime goal to win Game 6 against the Maple Leafs. His skating speed and ability to change gears make him hard to defend in open ice, but he also can hold his own in the front of the net, where much of his scoring comes.
“When you have these nagging injuries or things that are bothering you, that just takes away (from your game),” Cooper said “The mind is such a big part of it. And when you’re dealing with other things, it takes away from your concentration that can affect your game, and I think that’s been one of the reasons why some of our guys have had some big-time years. They’ve all been healthy.”
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In the Lightning’s 7-3 Game 1 win over the Maple Leafs on Tuesday in this year’s first-round series, Point scored twice on feeds from Kucherov, including arguably the biggest goal of the game. He flashed in front of the net and scored a critical goal after the Maple Leafs had cut the Lightning lead to 3-2 in the second period.
Last year Point played most of the series against the Maple Leafs on the second line with Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn. He was separated from Kucherov to give Steven Stamkos the opportunity to play as the top-line center following his first 100-point season.
After suffering a torn quad muscle in Game 7, Point tried to work his way back, and his potential return was a rallying point for his teammates. Point spent the Eastern Conference final testing his leg and returned for the first two games of the Cup final, but he wasn’t the same.
“It’s a sport where your body is your temple,” Stamkos said. “You have to rely on feeling good to play at your best. Because if your body’s not feeling good, your mind is not in the right place, and then that’s when you really can’t play your game.
“And for Pointer, I know it was disappointing for him last year to have some of the injuries that he had. And he grinded it out. He tried, and he had a summer of rehab, and he came in, and I thought he looked great from day one. And I think that that plays a big role in it, is feeling healthy and confident, and then you can focus on your game instead of your body. And I think that’s a byproduct of this.”
Missing most of the last postseason was a blow to Point, but he said it helped set the stage for his comeback this season.
“I don’t know if it fueled anything, but I did get extra time to get healthy,” he said. “So maybe that played a part in having a good year this year. But you look at our team, and a lot of guys are hitting big milestones and having good years, and that obviously helps, too.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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