DENVER — Brayden Point returned for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, a 4-3 overtime loss to the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena on Wednesday.
Point, who had missed 10 games since sustaining a lower-body injury in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 14, helped the Nicholas Paulat 12:26 of the first period and had 17:59 of ice time.
The 26-year-old, who did not take a shot on goal, received treatment after the game and did not speak to the media but to the captain Steven Stamkos said his teammate showed a lot of heart.
“He’s a warrior,” Stamkos said. “He’s going to dump it. It was just great for him to come back and great for our team to see him there.
“I thought he was playing well.”
Forward Alex Killorn said Point’s return was an inspiration to the Lightning.
“Every time we get him back, it’s always huge for our team,” he said. “He does so much for us. Just the way he can skate.
“He’s a bit similar to their players in that he can sort of take control of a game, so we’re happy to have him back.”
Point had practiced the previous two days on the third line with Paul and Ross Colton and in its usual place in the position of the bumper on the first power play unit. Those are the roles he filled in his 23 shifts against the Avalanche.
“Obviously he’s one of our best players, so any time you have a guy like him go down, you don’t really want that,” Lightning forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare said earlier on Wednesday. “That being said, the fact that he’s back, you know what he brings to the team with his speed, his creativity and his consistency. So most of the time you’re delighted that he’s back. back, just going through the adversity of an injury early in the playoffs and all the questions and all the media talking about it and the team responding in the right way and being really patient and not stressing about coming back, like trusting the process to come back, and now having a chance to come back, I think that’s the biggest part that we’re happy about We’re all very proud of him and delighted that he can play.”
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It’s been a long road back for Point, who had skated alone or with the extra Lightning players for nearly two weeks before Monday. When he got injured in Toronto, it wasn’t clear if he would get the chance to play again this season, but Point said he tried not to think about it.
“It’s been tough,” Point said Tuesday. “You want to be there. That’s why we play to play at this time of year. But the team played so well that it was easier to focus on rehabilitation and trying to regain health.”
After the Lightning secured a 2-1 Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs, they swept the Florida Panthers in the second round before rallying 2-0 to defeat the New York Rangers in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“It’s inspiring,” Point said. “They played fantastic hockey. The guys worked extremely hard to get to this point and sacrificed their bodies a lot to get to this point. So it was great to watch. It really helped me focus on trying to come back just because they were playing so well.”
Meanwhile, Point’s teammates were trying to extend the Lightning’s season long enough for him to join them and help their bid to win the Stanley Cup for the third consecutive season.
“It was definitely something on everyone’s mind,” the Lightning forward said Nikita Kucherov said. “We didn’t know how long he was injured. Everyone had to step up and play the right way and play for each other, and it doesn’t matter who’s in the lineup, so that he can have a chance. to play the final if we manage to do so. I think we are all delighted to see him again.
Point has played a big role in Tampa Bay winning the Stanley Cup in each of the past two seasons, leading the NHL with 14 playoff goals in 2020 and 2021. This postseason, he has five points (two goals, three assists) in eight games, including the overtime goal in a 4-3 Game 6 win over the Maple Leafs.
“It is enormous [getting Point back],” Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosyan said. “Just getting to know him over the years and knowing how competitive he is and how badly he really wants to win, even the last two rounds he hasn’t been in the lineup, he’s been a big part of our locker room. So to see him come back and see him work as hard as he has obviously is great to see and just to have him back on the ice with the guys is a huge boost for us. “
NHL.com Editor Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report