The Tampa Bay Lightning have an embarrassment of riches at forward. It’s borderline unfair.
Consider this: Brayden Point has been one of the best stories of this year’s pandemic postseason. He’s provided great heroics with the highest of stakes on the line and is a threat the very moment he steps on the ice, as was demonstrated within the opening minutes of the Eastern Conference final versus the New York Islanders.
It really makes you wonder how he fell to the 79th pick in the 2014 NHL Draft.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, they might have to survive without him for a while. He was injured in Game 2 after taking a hit to the head and wasn’t well enough to play in Game 3, a 5-3 loss for the Lightning. And despite skating Friday morning at practice, it isn’t clear when Point will be back.
For many other franchises, losing a player like Point would be a death blow to their playoff hopes. For the Lightning however, they have more than enough depth up front to withstand the sizeable hole Point’s absence leaves in the lineup.
“Losing somebody of Point’s stature is not ideal but we’ve played without him before,” head coach Jon Cooper said Thursday. “We’ve played (without) multiple guys before.”
Remember, this is also a team that is playing without star centre Steven Stamkos who continues to nurse a core muscle injury. Stamkos hasn’t played a minute in this year’s playoffs and has been ruled out for this series. The Lightning also didn’t have Alex Killorn in Game 3 after he laid a dangerous hit on Islanders forward Brock Nelson that led to a suspension.
Having to rely on Nikita Kucherov, a former MVP who has seven points through three games in this series, including an assist in Game 3, is a nice luxury.
Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, the other two-thirds of the famed Triplets Line, sparked Tampa’s comeback on Friday with a goal apiece in the third period to erase a 3-1 deficit. For Palat, who’s best known as a defensive forward, that was his seventh goal over his last seven games.
With Point out of the lineup, the Lightning called on Anthony Cirelli to slot in on the top line. Although Cirelli isn’t on Point’s level offensively, he’s still an underrated play driver who was on pace for more than 20 goals and 50 points this season. And oh yeah, he just finished fourth in Selke voting.
Then there’s Yanni Gourde, who is quietly having a solid postseason with five goals and 10 points through 16 games. He notched a nifty assist in Game 3 setting up Mikhail Sergachev, a defenceman the Lightning acquired from the Montreal Canadiens in 2017 in exchange for Jonathan Drouin because they already had a surplus of forwards.
After falling short in Game 3, the Lightning still have a 2-1 series lead and showed they can never be counted out, even with several key contributors sitting in the press box.
More NHL coverage from Yahoo Sports