- Greg Wyshynski is ESPN’s senior NHL writer.
DENVER — Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said things are leaning towards Brayden Point returning to the lineup for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night against the Colorado Avalanche.
“If it’s not tomorrow, then we really anticipate Game 2. But we’ll see how he is tomorrow,” Cooper said Tuesday.
Point suffered a lower-body injury after just 5 minutes, 51 seconds of ice time in Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on May 14. He was ruled out for their next nine games before becoming a game-time decision in Game 6, when the Lightning eliminated the New York Rangers.
“There’s a chance (he plays),” Cooper said. “Last series, if it was going to go deep, we thought potentially (he could play), but we weren’t going to push anything. It’s all about how he feels. He felt pretty good today.”
Point agreed that it’s too early to cement him in the lineup for Game 1. “We still gotta see. I don’t think anything is guaranteed. It was just fun to be out there with the team and be a part of it,” Point said, speaking during the Stanley Cup Final’s media day.
Point said when he left the ice in Game 7 against Toronto, there wasn’t concern that his season was over. But in the short term, he was visibly frustrated that he couldn’t continue on against Toronto.
“Game 7 is a do or die situation for the team. You don’t want to feel like you’re leaving the fight,” he said.
The fact that the Lightning have won eight out of 10 games in his absence, earning a third straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final, eased his frustration a bit.
“It’s been tough. You wanna be out there. It’s why we play, to play at this time of year. But the team has been playing so well that it made it easier to just focus on rehabbing and trying to get healthy,” he said.
Point has been gradually working back, finally rejoining his teammates for full practices. He skated with forward Nick Paul and Ross Colton recently, which could be an indication that Cooper intends to ease him back into the lineup, rather than throw him back into a top offensive role.
“Brayden Point is an elite player in this League and he will play his minutes accordingly of how he’s responding,” Cooper said. “It’s tough to not play and then jump right into a Stanley Cup Final game. A lot of it’s going to be on how he’s feeling. I wouldn’t classify that Pointer’s going to be sitting on the bench a whole lot. If he’s healthy, he’ll be out there.”
Point admitted that jump right back into the speed of the Stanley Cup Playoffs won’t be easy.
“Anytime you’re coming back, you can’t replicate the timing and whatnot of playoff hockey in a practice. It just doesn’t happen. It’ll be an adjustment for sure,” he said. “But it’s the playoffs. You gotta do everything you can to be a positive addition to your team.”
Point had four points in seven games in the opening round. No player has scored more goals (30) than Point has over the past three NHL postseasons. He has 60 points in 53 games during that span.
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