Point remains on point
by Lucas Aykroyd|01 JUL 2021
Brayden Point, who won gold at the 2015 World Juniors and silver at the 2017 Worlds, leads the NHL playoffs with 14 goals as Tampa Bay seeks its second straight Stanley Cup against Montrea.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
When the Tampa Bay Lightning edged the New York Islanders 1-0 in Game Seven to advance to the 2021 Stanley Cup final, Brayden Point didn’t score. That meant the 25-year-old Lightning centre fell one goal short of equalling Philadelphia Flyers sniper Reggie Leach’s 1976 playoff record of scoring in 10 straight games.

However, Point definitely isn’t complaining. He chipped in three assists as Tampa Bay defeated the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 in Game One of the final at Amalie Arena. And on Wednesday night, Point went a game-high 80 percent on faceoffs and coach Jon Cooper had him out there in the final minute in a 3-1 victory. These defending champions have many offensive weapons, and they just keep finding different ways to win.

If Tampa does capture its third Cup of all time dating back to 2004, Point could add two other major feathers to his cap.

With a playoff-best 14 goals, the shifty Canadian forward is a top candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as post-season MVP. Also, “Pointer” still has a shot at the NHL’s single-playoff goals record (19) shared by Leach, who hit the mark in just 16 games when Montreal swept the Flyers in the 1976 finals, and Jari Kurri, who did it in 18 games when the Edmonton Oilers took out Philadelphia in five games to earn their second straight Cup in 1985.
Don’t expect Point to embark on a Conor McGregor-like spree of self-promotion, though. This modest Calgary native is fully focused on winning another title.

“It’s playoff time, and personal stats don’t mean anything,” Point said. “It’s about wins. It doesn’t happen without teammates. I’ve had a lot of goals these playoffs that have been great set-ups or tap-ins. So it’s been a group effort.”

Frankly, the man has a point. He’s centering the top line with Ondrej Palat, who scored an opportunistic insurance goal in Game Two, and Nikita Kucherov, who dominated with two goals and an assist in the third period against Montreal in Game One.

“Kuch” topped last year’s playoffs with 34 points – one ahead of Point – and leads the way again in 2021 with 30 points. The Russian has assisted on 10 of Point’s goals so far. One highlight was a magical no-look pass from behind the net when Point drew first blood in a 4-2 win over the Islanders on 15 June.

“Pointer is an unbelievable player,” Kucherov said. “He knows when and what to do at certain times. He's a helluva player. He sees the ice to make those plays. It’s just who he is. It’s fun to play with him. He's been unbelievable for us.”

Kucherov, the 2019 Hart Trophy winner and NHL scoring champ (128 points), is another top Conn Smythe candidate. And consider this: many oddsmakers put Bolts starting goalie Andrei Vasilevski (1.99 GAA, 93.6 save percentage, four shutouts) ahead of both these fabulous forwards, especially after “Vasy” made 42 saves in Game Two.

Regardless, Point is already in some elite company. The fifth-year NHLer also led last year’s playoffs with 14 goals. With his 2021 run, he joins only Wayne Gretzky (12 goals in 1983, 13 goals in 1984, 18 goals in 1985) and Mario Lemieux (16 goals in both 1991 and 1992) among NHL centres who have registered 12 or more goals in consecutive playoffs.

Among NHLers in the 21st century, only Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby (15 goals in 2009) and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin (15 goals in 2018) have scored more goals than Point in a single post-season.

“[Point] just gets better and better,” said Tampa Bay’s Blake Coleman, who scored the Game Two winner with 1.1 seconds left in the second period. “The spotlight’s never too big for him. He seems to step up to whatever the challenge is, whatever the series is. He has a way of adjusting his game to be successful in a series.”

The funny thing is, few foresaw this coming when then-Tampa GM Steve Yzerman selected Point in the third round (79th overall) of the 2014 NHL Draft. Point (310 regular-season points) has gone on to outpoint every player from that draft apart from Edmonton’s Leon Draisaitl (3rd overall, 506 points with Edmonton) and Boston’s David Pastrnak (25th overall, 427 points).

Point’s IIHF performances didn’t necessarily portend his outstanding NHL playoff production.
After earning a 2014 U18 Worlds bronze medal (0+2=2), the captain of the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors won gold at the 2015 World Juniors in Montreal and Toronto (2+2=4), but the limelight went to Canadian all-star forwards Sam Reinhart, Max Domi, and Connor McDavid. Point wore the “C” at the 2016 World Juniors in Helsinki (1+4=5), but Canada finished a disappointing sixth after a 6-5 quarter-final loss to host Finland.

And although Point tied Mitch Marner and Jeff Skinner for second place in Canadian goals at the 2017 Worlds in Paris and Cologne (4+1=5), the 178-cm, 75-kg pivot went pointless in the medal round. Tampa Bay teammate and future 2020 Conn Smythe winner Victor Hedman scored in regulation as Sweden edged Canada 2-1 in a shootout in the gold medal game.

Since then, Point’s improved skating – with skating coach Barb Underhill honing everything from his edge work to his one-step quickness – is a major reason why his 30 playoff goals in the last four seasons lead all NHLers. Smart, gritty, and skillful, he is making history.

In a recent Calgary Sun interview, his father Grant expressed how exciting it was to see Point surpass Buffalo Sabres legend Gilbert Perreault on the all-time playoff goals list: “For me, that was maybe a bigger moment than anything else, because that was my idol and my hero. To see your son pass your hero, that’s something. That was so cool.”

Currently, Point has six career playoff game-winning goals. The first one came last year at 10:57 of quintuple overtime when Tampa Bay beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 to open the first round of the playoffs in the fourth-longest game in NHL history.
Point might still need to score another equally epic winner – or two – in this final against Montreal. The Lightning can’t take anything for granted with superstar Habs goalie Carey Price playing some of his better hockey since winning the 2015 Vezina Trophy. The 33-year-old veteran, who recorded a jaw-dropping 0.59 GAA and 97.2 save percentage when Canada won gold at the Sochi Olympics, is likely to bounce back with a strong effort on home ice at the Bell Centre

Through the first three rounds, Montreal did a superb job of shutting down top opposing forwards. The storied club seeking its first Cup since 1993 and 25th of all time also brings a balanced attack. Four forwards have registered five goals – Tyler Toffoli, Nick Suzuki, Joel Armia, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi – and rookie Cole Caufield has impressed with four goals thus far.

Still, it’s hard to bet against Brayden Point and his Lightning teammates, who have been there and done that before.