Russo: Tampa Bay Lightning, 2-0 loss, need Brayden Point at worst

NEW YORK – It’s so obvious Brayden Point Comprehensively works to return to Tampa Bay Lightning Lined up.

Not long after most of his fellow Lightning snowboarders at Madison Square Garden were out of the morning skate in preparation for Game 1 on Wednesday, Point appeared in full force to test an injured right leg that had forced him back down since Game Seven of the game. first round against Toronto Maple Leafs.

The point didn’t look quite comfortable or at full speed, and when he spilled into the left corner during the turn, it was for his morning, as instructed by the athletic trainer. One had to wonder if Point had suffered a relapse or if his leg wasn’t strong enough yet.

Turns out he just fell.

“It’s probably more embarrassing than anything,” Lightning coach John Cooper quipped.

It was clear that Point did indeed escape the fall unscathed when he took to the ice again between matches on Thursday and again early Friday afternoon when he was said to have skied and participated in 55 minutes of practice with the taxi squad.

That’s all good news, of course, for Lightning, who desperately need their most offensive player back in a playoff. However, the concern for Lightning is that by the time he is medically cleared to return to the action of the game, it will be too late for Point to help them outrun the game. New York Rangers.

Make no mistake: the point is missing as much as the player. The Lightning team suddenly finds itself in uncharted waters now that it’s on a 2-0 hole in the best of seven final of the Eastern Conference after Friday’s 3-2 loss in Manhattan.

The two-time Stanley Cup defensive champions lost consecutive playoffs for the first time since they were swept away by the Columbus Blues Jackets in 2019. Florida Panthers And climbed to consecutive cups.

Hardworking and fast young Rangers, behind the strong play of Mika ZibanjadAnd the Adam Fox And the goalkeeper Igor Shesterkinthey keep the lightning from within and force them to terrible reversals and uncharacteristic errors throughout the ice.

But in past seasons and even two rounds ago against the Maple Leafs, when Lightning wasn’t ahead of his game, behind or simply needed a monster goal, Point often gave it away.

number NHL A player who has over 30 points playoff goals in the last three years. He led the league with 14 in each of the past two seasons. His 56 points over the previous two seasons were second to his teammate Nikita Kucherov. He ranks 514 goals in each playoff and ranks 16th in National Hockey League history.

Overtime goals. Series winners. All that’s needed, is usually point on point post-season lightning.

So his absence was noticeable, at least in the series, because it is the North-South engine capable of pushing the Rangers back. Despite his 5-foot-10 stature, the #21 guy is the guy who can get inside. It will also help balance things out with Lightning, a team that has been forced to go with 11 forwards and seven defenders without it. It could be argued that some Lightning players are playing more elevated roles than they should occupy, and this has had a ripple effect throughout the squad.

for some reason, Stephen Stamkos I only played 9 1/2 minutes after two breaks on Friday. When Cooper attempted to load the top streak into the second shift of the third period Friday night by moving Stamkos to the middle between Ondrij Balat And Kucherov, who was 2-1 3-1 behind on the ninth goal of Zipanigad in the qualifiers, became only 81 seconds.

“You’re not that deep,” Cooper admitted after Friday’s loss, referring to what Point’s absence does to the squad and Lightning’s game plan. “He’s, in my opinion, one of the best players in the league. And I don’t think I’m out of line to say it. There’s a reason he’s scored the most goals in the playoffs over the past few years. He’s a great player, and he can help tilt the ice.”

But Cooper was given a reminder in the next moment: “We’ve been through Florida without him, so yeah, in a perfect world we’d like to have. But it’s not like we haven’t won a series games without him.”

That’s because Cooper doesn’t want his team to make excuses, as it certainly doesn’t look like Point is about to put on a mantle and come to the rescue to save Lightning while the series heads to Tampa.

“He keeps going, but we’re not sitting here saying, ‘Oh, he’s going to miraculously come out for Game 3,'” Cooper said.

Cooper said before Game Two that despite Point’s heavy loss to Lightning, players are always unfazed by any injury to the supplement, whether it’s been to Point or Steven Stamkos in the past or whatever.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard in my time here that someone say, ‘Oh my God, we would have won if this guy was going,'” Cooper said.

That may be true, but this opponent may be a different animal for Lightning. Rangers play so fast and so confidently that Lightning seems to be at a loss.

Stamkos and Victor Hedmanwho had a tough game as you’ll see from the defending star, looked utterly frustrated after the loss on Friday.

“We haven’t done the right way that got us here, especially in the last couple of years,” Stamkus said. “It’s the hardest tournament to win. And you’ll come across some opposite moments, and this is definitely one of them. But you just have to look at the team we’re playing with, and how they got here. They were in the last 2-zip series, 3-1 in the first round. So the recipe present “.

Lightning owns the championship DNA, but a large part of it includes Point.

If he’s not about to return to Game 3 – and if you take Cooper at his word, it doesn’t look like he will – a lot of players should be better.

Kucherov, who had 12 shot attempts in Game 1, needs to be much more difficult to handle than he did in Game 2. Hedman needs to be a lot more sharp.

the same with Andrei VasilevskyWho scored nine goals in two matches.

He didn’t seem to get the rust off the nine-day shot, but when the lightning was awful in the first 15 minutes of Friday night’s second period, it was the star goalkeeper who put away all 14 shots he saw keeping the deficit at 2-1. But in a handful of unclean moments, the pucks passed through it (Corey Berry Saved one goal) or couldn’t hold onto the balls.

And for the second game in a row, Vasilevsky almost immediately missed a goal in the third half.

But what might help the most is a health point, the historically breakout Lightning performer.

“I know he’s not too happy to watch it,” his teammate pat maroon He said. “He wants to be there. He’s a competitor. We just have the hope that he’ll be back sooner rather than later.”

Obviously, The Lightning wouldn’t jeopardize Point, but as Cooper admitted, “Of course, we’d like to get him back.”

If he wasn’t close, it might be Lightning’s chance of obtaining three toast peats.

Confident Rangers are very much in control of the series. Teams that advance 2-0 in the Best of Seven series have a record of 340-53 (.865). Teams that are 2-0 up in the Best of Seven series when they start at home have a home record of 255-33 (.885).

Lightning was 17-0 when he knocked out the loss match since 2019.

“The streaks are coming to an end, and unfortunately tonight is over,” Cooper said. “Did he knock us out of the playoffs? She didn’t. Do we have a hill to climb? No doubt. I don’t think I’m a clear captain as I say that. But I think we have the best of us.”

(Photo by Brayden Point in the first round against the Maple Leafs: Kim Clement/USA Today)