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How Brayden Point is leading Lightning attack in critical late-season run

With its top-line center lighting the lamp, Tampa Bay has played its best hockey over its past eight games.
 
Lightning center Brayden Point celebrates his second-period goal Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, which wound up being the game-winner in a 3-1 Tampa Bay victory.
Lightning center Brayden Point celebrates his second-period goal Wednesday against the Boston Bruins, which wound up being the game-winner in a 3-1 Tampa Bay victory. [ CHRIS O'MEARA | AP ]
Published March 29|Updated March 29

TAMPA — Brayden Point is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and has remarkable hands to make plays in tight spaces while moving at high speeds. When the Lightning center enters the offensive zone with room in front of him, he can take over a game and score goals in bunches.

Over the past two seasons, he has put together one of the most prolific goal-scoring stretches in franchise history.

With a goal in Wednesday’s 3-1 win over the Bruins, Point entered Saturday with 42 for the season and 93 over the past two, the third-highest total over any two-season stretch in Tampa Bay history, behind only Steven Stamkos (105 over 2010-11 to 2011-12 and 96 over 2009-10 to 2010-11). He can move up to second with four goals over the final 10 games of the regular season.

Given his current pace, Point has a good shot to do so. It’s no coincidence the Lightning’s best stretch of hockey this season — 7-0-1 over its previous eight games before Saturday — has coincided with one of Point’s best point runs.

“When he has the puck on his stick a bunch in the game, it’s usually a good thing,” head coach Jon Cooper said Wednesday.

Point has 10 goals and 16 points during the Lightning’s current eight-game point streak. He scored the winning goal in each of Tampa Bay’s last three victories, including a tie-breaking second-period goal against Boston that gave him a league-leading 11 game-winning goals this season.

Going back further, Point has scored in 13 of his last 17 games and has a point in 15 of them.

“He’s using his legs and he’s shooting pucks, and maybe they’re not all getting through but he’s much more responsible with the puck,” Cooper said. “He’s not doing things in high-risk areas that could put himself in trouble. And all those things are adding up for him.”

The Lightning's Brayden Point (21) moves the puck under pressure from the Kings' Vladislav Gavrikov (84) during a game Saturday in Los Angeles.
The Lightning's Brayden Point (21) moves the puck under pressure from the Kings' Vladislav Gavrikov (84) during a game Saturday in Los Angeles. [ JAE C. HONG | AP ]

He’s not the only one. As a team, the Lightning have done a better in recent weeks of limiting opponents’ scoring chances. They’ve made smarter decisions with the puck, cutting down on turnovers that have led to odd-man rushes and high-danger opportunities.

Point might best epitomize his team’s 200-foot improvement.

Over the last seven games, he’s plus-6. A three-goal, six-point game March 14 against the Rangers certainly helped, but over his last 13 games he is plus-3. That’s in contrast to his minus-12 rating for the season, the lowest of his career. His line had been on the wrong end of many of the turnover-fueled, odd-man rushes that haunted the Lightning earlier in the season.

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It’s a promising sign for Tampa Bay as it approaches the postseason, as Point historically has been one of the team’s biggest playoff contributors. He has 32 goals, 65 points and a plus-10 rating in 61 postseason games over the last four seasons. And that’s despite missing most of the last three rounds of the 2022 run to the Stanley Cup final with a quad tear.

Point said the Lightning have been more successful lately breaking the puck out of their own end, which has allowed him to create space with his speed in through the neutral zone and into the offensive end. It also limits the time his line has to play in the defensive zone.

“For me, personally, that’s not the best part of my game,” Point said. “So, as little time I can spend in there and more on the offensive side, the better for me. I think breaking the puck out is something we’ve kind of battled with a little bit this year. I feel like, especially this last stretch here, it’s been more of a highlight of our game.”

Lightning center Brayden Point (21) keeps the puck away from Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) during a game earlier this month in Tampa.
Lightning center Brayden Point (21) keeps the puck away from Montreal Canadiens right wing Brendan Gallagher (11) during a game earlier this month in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Point’s game-winner against Boston was a great example. With the game tied at 1 less than seven minutes into the second period, defenseman Emil Lilleberg made an outlet pass from deep in his own end to Point, who instantly put pressure on the Boston defense, speeding through the neutral zone up the right side and then cutting to the left circle as he entered the offensive zone.

Point slowed near the left circle, put the puck between his skates and circled back. He fed the puck to Nick Perbix at the point and nearly had a shot at an open net from the left post when Lilleberg’s one-timer rebounded off the end boards. But Point kept moving, collecting Lilleberg’s second wild one-timer off the end boards, skating behind the net and beating goaltender Linus Ullmark on a wraparound for the go-ahead goal.

“That just comes with confidence, too,” Point said. “When things are going well, you kind of feel like you have that freedom more to kind of wheel around and make plays and just kind of trust your game.”

No question, Point has benefited from playing alongside longtime linemate Nikita Kucherov, who shares the team lead in goals (42) with Point. But after scoring 26 goals in his first 37 games, Kucherov has been more of a play-maker lately, picking up 47 of his 82 assists over the last 34 games, including 16 in 10 games this month. Of Point’s 11 goals in March, Kucherov has assisted on eight and had the primary assist on six.

The line also has received a boast from the promotion of left wing Anthony Duclair to the top line in the middle of the Rangers game before Point had his hat trick. Duclair provides Point and Kucherov with space with his speed and ability to get to the front of the net.

“Duke can really back the D up, and when you do that, if you’re coming late, especially the centerman in that kind of second wave, there’s going to be time there,” Point said. “So, he’s a guy that can speed up the game and really does create a lot of time and space for you.”

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