Lightning’s Brayden Point ‘highly doubtful’ for Game 1 against Panthers

TAMPA – Star forward Brayden Point is “highly doubtful” for Game 1 of the Lightning’s second-round series against the Panthers Tuesday in Sunrise, coach Jon Cooper said Monday.

Point will be considered day-to-day after that, Cooper added.

Point was competing for a puck with Maple Leafs defenseman Mark Giordano in the offensive zone late in the first period of Game 7 of their opening-round series Saturday in Toronto when he lost his balance and fell awkwardly into the boards.

Point, in obvious pain, flung a glove while down on the ice and then was helped to the bench. He went directly to the locker room but returned to the bench for the start of the second period. He tried taking a shift early in the period but quickly returned to the bench, where teammates Pat Maroon, Anthony Cirelli and others consoled him. He remained there for the rest of the game.

“He gave it a go,” Cooper said after the Lightning’s 4-3, series-clinching win. “He was not going to the room. He was going to stay on the bench all the time, but he couldn’t go. ”

Prior to the injury, Point played a major role in the series.

In addition to his offensive contributions – two assists and a pair of goals, including the winner in overtime in Game 6 – the second line of Point, Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli often matched up against Toronto’s top line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Michael Bunting. They hounded the Leafs trio for much of the series, limiting their looks and playing a heavy, defensive-style game.

Point averaged the fourth-highest ice time among forwards in the series (19:10), behind Nikita Kucherov (20:27), Killorn (20:22) and Cirelli (19:24).

Point also plays critical minutes on the Lightning’s top power-play unit. Typically skating in the slot, he helps screen goaltenders and works to get open to receive passes from Kucherov and Steven Stamkos on either side of him.

Related: Lightning-Panthers set to start Round 2 on Tuesday in Sunrise

With Point absent from Monday’s practice in Tampa, Riley Nash skated in his spot on the power play. The rest of the unit – comprised of Victor Hedman, Killorn, Stamkos and Kucherov – remained the same, with Cirelli drawing in for Killorn on a couple of reps.

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While Nash, called up at the start of the postseason for depth purposes, could draw into Tuesday’s lineup, the team could also choose to go with an adjusted lineup of 11 forwards and seven defensemen, something it has grown familiar with over the past two postseasons , instead of the normal 12-6 lineup.

Related: These 5 Panthers players could pose trouble for the Lightning

If Point cannot go Tuesday, it wouldn’t be the first time this season the Lightning have had to figure out how to play without their All-Star center. He sustained an upper-body injury Nov. 20 when he crashed into the boards against the Devils. He missed five weeks and 14 games before returning to play Dec. 28 against the Canadiens.

Previously, Point was a significant contributor to the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cup championships, leading all NHL players in postseason goals with 14 in both 2020 and 2021. His 23 points in last season’s playoffs were second only to Kucherov’s 32.

The Panthers are not assuming anything concerning Point’s status.

“He’s a great player in our league,” Panthers defenseman Brandon Montour said Sunday. “Whether he plays or not, I don’t think we’re focused on one player, specifically, but they have a whole team over there that’s obviously spent it last couple of years. Whether he’s in the lineup or not, we’ll focus on that when the time comes, but we’re focused on ourselves and what we have to do. ”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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