If not Game 1 for Lightning center Brayden Point, likely Game 2
Lightning center Brayden Point, out since Game 7 of the first-round Toronto series because of a lower-body injury, participated in practice Tuesday afternoon ahead of the Lightning’s Stanley Cup Finals opener against the Avalanche on Wednesday.
“There’s a chance (he plays),” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “The last series (against the Rangers), if it was going deep (to Game 7), we thought potentially (he would play), but we weren’t going to push anything.
“It’s all about how he feels. He felt pretty good (Tuesday). We’ll see how he responds (Wednesday morning), but things are leaning toward him playing and if it’s not (in Game 1), I really anticipate in Game 2.”
A sign that Point is close to returning is that he was available to the media after practice.
“We still have to see,” Point said of his Game 1 status. “I don’t think anything is guaranteed, but it’s just fun to be out there with the team again and be a part of it.”
During the Lightning’s past two Stanley Cup titles, Point was the leading goal scorer (14 in each year).
Minus Point, the Lightning beat Toronto, swept Florida and downed the Rangers in six games. If he plays Wednesday, it will be his first game since May 14.
“You want to be out there,” he said. “That’s why we play, to play this time of year, but the team has been playing so well that it made it easier to focus on rehab.”
Point emphasized that you can’t replicate playoff hockey in practice so it will be an adjustment when he does return to the Lightning lineup. If Point is in the lineup, his minutes will not be curtailed to account for his absence.
“Brayden Point is an elite player in this league and he will play his minutes,” Cooper said. “It’s tough to not play and jump right into a Stanley Cup Final game.”
Getting Point would only boost a Lightning team that has two four-game winning streaks in the playoffs. Tampa Bay staved off elimination by winning Games 6 and 7 against Toronto and rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win the final four games of the Rangers series.
No NHL team has won three consecutive Stanley Cups since the New York Islanders won four straight in the early 1980s.
“We’ve earned the opportunity to chase it down and continue to add to the success of this group and this team,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “We hate to lose as much as we like to win, almost more. It’s tough to envision somebody else hoisting that (Cup).”
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