Brayden Point has maintained a quiet confidence in the Tampa Bay locker room during the Eastern Conference finals, surrounded by a veteran-laden team.
The second-year center has remained focused and determined in his first postseason run as he anchors his line, playing with preternatural maturity despite being just 22. It’s nothing new to Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper or Point’s Lightning teammates.
He continued to produce Thursday night in Game 4, scoring from the back post in the first period at Capital One Arena to draw the Lightning even at 1. Then, as Point came through again, assisting on Steven Stamkos’s power-play goal to give the Lightning a 2-1 lead, it was enough to get an animated reaction from Tampa’s captain.
“Good [expletive] pass,” Stamkos yelled as the team celebrated and pointed to Point on the ice.
Lighting center Alex Killorn’s goal to give Tampa a 3-2 lead with 8:03 left in the third period might have ultimately tied the series at two games apiece, but it was Point who played a hand in the first two goals, and in the end, a 4-2 Tampa victory.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Stamkos said. “We’ve seen it all year . . . in our room he’s been arguably one of our best players all season and then through the playoffs. No surprise for us.”
In the playoffs, Point has tallied seven goals and nine assists to go along with five multi-point performances. Point’s strong Game 4 followed a two-point effort in Game 3, in which he had a goal and a power-play assist.
“He’s just one of those kids that won’t be denied,” Cooper said. “He just has a lot of respect in the locker room because he’s really quiet, unassuming, doesn’t say very much. He just lets his play do the talking for him.”
The 5-foot-10, 166-pounder played in all 82 games during the regular season, scoring 32 goals with 34 assists.
Rated as a top prospect headed into the 2014 NHL draft, Point was selected No. 79 overall by the Lightning. Point then played two years in the WHL before unexpectedly making Tampa’s training camp roster in 2016. He was thrust into the lineup after injuries to multiple players, including Stamkos, who tore his lateral meniscus in his right knee in November 2016. Point, who earlier that year was named captain of Canada’s world junior team, was Tampa’s No. 1 center by season’s end.
“I kind of just kept playing and started feeling more comfortable and by the end of the year, unfortunately some guys had some injuries and it allowed me to play some top minutes,” Point said. “That has helped me feel more comfortable this year.”
In his first year with Tampa, he played in 68 games, scoring 18 goals to go along with 22 assists. And while the Lightning missed the playoffs, it came back with a chip on its shoulder this season and Point still playing big minutes.
“I wouldn’t say surprise is the right word, but he keeps taking steps,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman said. “He’s a difference-maker on the ice for us. He’s unbelievable.”
Point has anchored Tampa’s top line. In the Lightning’s second-round series win over the Boston Bruins in five games, Point’s line initially struggled with containing Boston’s Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand — Point finished Game 1 with a minus-5 rating. But, the trio improved as the series went on and the Lightning took care of Boston.
And now, facing a series tied at two with Tampa Bay headed home for Game 5, Point will once again look to bring his calm and collected character to the ice, one game at a time.
“It is just the role that I’ve been put in,” Point said. “I don’t know if it is pressure, but I think everybody feels some degree of pressure no matter what role they are in.”
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