Tampa Bay’s victory over the Boston Bruins on Monday night, a win that the best-of-seven series level, was all about Brayden Point, who had a bounce-back outing that will be remembered for a long time if the Game 2 victory helps spur the Lightning onward in their quest for the Stanley Cup.
You see, in Game 1, Point had the best seat in the house as the Bruins dismantled the Lightning. Boston scored four goals at even strength and an empty-netter in their decisive 6-2 win to open the series, and Point was on the ice for each and every one. In fact, you don’t need to look all that hard to spot No. 21 watching Andrei Vasilevskiy digging pucks out of the Tampa Bay goal if you go back through the footage. But Point was determined to not make the same mistakes in Game 2, and he was all over the scoresheet in another way.
In the first frame, the 22-year-old set up Yanni Gourde’s game-opening goal. In the second, he picked up the primary helper on Tyler Johnson’s third of the post-season. Then he took a gift of a turnover in the third and set up Ondrej Palat’s insurance tally, before Point effectively ended the contest himself with a rush up the ice to fire home an empty-net goal. Four Lightning goals, four points for Point, and that just scratches the surface of his night.
Beyond stuffing his stat line, Point was thrown over the boards at every turn against the Bruins’ top unit of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Point and linemates Johnson and Palat turned in a spectacular outing, too, controlling the possession game and shots battle at 5-on-5 while head-to-head with a trio that has skated circles around most opposition all season.
Should we have been at all surprised, though? This is what Point has done all season, and, further, he’s been doing this since he entered the league. As a rookie in 2016-17, Point came aboard and rifled home 18 goals and 40 points in 68 games, skating more than 17 minutes per night and earning his keep in the middle of the lineup against some top talents. And this past campaign, it was much of the same, with Point earning more minutes and rewarding that trust with a 32-goal, 66-point breakout season, complete with a league-best 12 game-winning goals.
Better yet, though, Point has repeatedly proven the dimensions to his game. True as it may be that he’s had a heavier slant of offensive-zone than defensive-zone starts over the past two seasons, he has shown time and again that he can be a play-driving winger or skilled two-way pivot even against top competition. One needs look no further than the fact no other Lightning skater — not a forward or a defender — faced a higher quality of competition at even strength throughout the campaign. He was Tampa Bay’s go-to shutdown guy, all the while finishing among the league’s top 50 scorers.
So, in a way, Game 2 was a microcosm of everything Point has proven himself to be through his sophomore campaign. It also served as a reminder why the Lighting, when looking to swing an off-season deal with the salary cap in mind, could afford to ship out talented youngster Jonathan Drouin in exchange for prospect defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in a one-for-one swap with the Montreal Canadiens.
While true that the trade option for the Lightning was never a one-or-the-other, Point-or-Drouin proposition — Johnson was seen as the other most likely trade candidate — what Tampa Bay had to take into account was what the loss of a young, game-breaking offensive talent would mean for the franchise. Turns out, though, it hasn’t meant all that much because it could well be argued that Point has acquitted himself as similarly effective on the attack. Some will undoubtedly scoff at the premise, and it may indeed be true that Drouin possesses the kind of raw, skillful, edge-of-your-seat talent level that Point does not, but when it comes down to getting the job done, the numbers suggest Point has the edge.
Consider that over the past two seasons, Point and Drouin have played exactly 150 games apiece, yet Point leads in each of the following categories at 5-on-5: goals, points, primary points and each of the respective per 60 minute rates. Point also has the edge in Corsi for, shots for, goals for and expected goals for, and that, again, includes the per 60 minute rates. And lest someone suggest this is entirely due to Point playing for the Lightning and Drouin spending one of the two seasons on a lottery-contending Canadiens team, Point’s underlying numbers relative to his teammates are better than Drouin’s relative to his. So there may be some element of an overall team effect, but not enough that it paints a different picture than what the 5-on-5 numbers can tell us. Add to it the trust factor — Drouin was never given the chance to play center in Tampa Bay, Point has spent a good portion of his time down the middle since arriving — and it’s evident the Lightning saw and continue to see more value in Point than Drouin.
It’s awfully difficult to argue otherwise, too, and particularly so with Point proving in Game 2 that he can be everything the Lightning need him to be as they continue their march towards a Stanley Cup.
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