The Secret is getting out on Brayden Point

Brayden Point is a stud. After the Lightning center was one of the bright spots of a 2016-17 season where everything seemed to go wrong in Tampa Bay, the 22-year-old exploded on the NHL scene this season. He took on a big role in the Bolts lineup, playing all 82 games and finished with 32 goals and 66 points while serving as the team’s shutdown pivot, and probably could’ve been a finalist for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top two-way forward.

Unfortunately, Tampa Bay is absolutely loaded and Point has flown under the radar, cast over by the likes of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, and even Tyler Johnson.

But not anymore. People are beginning to see just how good this guy is as the Lightning get set to face the Capitals in the Eastern Conference Final, Tampa’s third in four years but the first for Point.

Point has 10 points (4-6) this postseason, six of which came in the four straight wins over the Bruins that followed the 6-2 loss to open that Second Round series, in which Point finished with a minus-5. He carried the offensive load for the Bolts with Stamkos and Kucherov having a largely quiet series, while keeping the Bruins top forward line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak at bay. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said after the series that he was the best player in the series. For anyone who watched, it’s hard to disagree.

The Heartbeat of the Lightning,’ as Joe Smith of The Athletic put it in a great feature on Point and his journey to The Show.

This is no fluke here, either. Count it as a coming-out party for one of the most dynamic two-way players in the game. Someone who could win one if not multiple Selke Trophies and will be in the mix for years to come. A player who wasn’t drafted until the third round in 2014 and was overlooked largely because of his 5-10, 166-pound frame and we all know that nobody under six feet has ever done anything in the NHL, especially in the past few years.

At the All-Star Skills Competition in January, Point finished second in the Fastest Skater competition to Connor McDavid. McDavid, who can move pretty quickly himself (if you haven’t heard), beat out Point by just a hair, 13.454-13.579.

The next challenge up for Point and his running-mates Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson is Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, two players that will benefit from the return of Tom Wilson from a 3-game suspension, making Washington’s top line whole once again. If the Lightning want to move on, one of the starting points will be keeping those guys in check. It will likely be on Point’s line to complete that task.

So if we see the Lightning in the Stanley Cup Final, don’t expect the Point love to die down.

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Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Preview: Eastern Conference

Devils vs Lightning

Why the Lightning win: To put it lightly, Tampa Bay has too much firepower for New Jersey to handle. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov put up points in bunches. Jon Cooper employs 200-foot savant Brayden Point to counter Taylor Hall. Victor Hedman logs his usual half-hour of work per night on the back end.

Why the Devils win: New Jersey knocks Tampa back on their heels with their speed and pace. Keith Kinkaid, who finished the season 7-0-1 with a .931 save percentage in his final eight games, continues to hold down the Devils crease and outplays Andrei Vasilevskiy, who of late has been a shell of his early-season self.

Player that proves to be the difference: Brayden Point.. Point has emerged as one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL. Point’s line, flanked by Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson, will be the shutdown line for Tampa. And they can score goals too.

Something you might want to know: Andrei Vasilevskiy in his final nine games: 4-5-0, 3.74 GAA, .884 save percentage. Keith Kinkaid in his final eight games: 7-0-1, 2.25 GAA, .931 save percentage.

What happens: Lightning in 6. Tampa Bay’s best players prove to be too much of a handful for New Jersey.

Maple Leafs vs Bruins

Why the Bruins win: Two words and they both start with ‘D’. Depth, and defense. Bruins roll four lines as good as any team in the league and have one of the league’s top shutdown defensive pairings in Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. The top forward line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak might be the best in the league.

Why the Maple Leafs win: Frederik Andersen carries what was one of the best seasons of his career into the postseason, steals a couple games, and outplays Tuukka Rask. Meanwhile, the injury bug that plagued the Bruins for the final month doesn’t just disappear when the playoffs begin.

Player that proves to be the difference: William Nylander.. Auston Matthews is one of the NHL’s best players and Nylander makes him even better. Nylander’s vision, skating, and puck-carrying ability opens up so much extra space for Matthews in the offensive zone, creating prime opportunities for the 20-year-old phenom, who has 78 goals and 137 points through his first 150 NHL games (regular season and playoffs).

Something you might want to know: Maple Leafs record in the 62 games Auston Matthews played this season: 38-19-5. Maple Leafs record in the 20 games Matthews missed: 11-7-2.

What happens: Bruins in 6. Much like their First Round loss to Washington last season, the Maple Leafs will make this a series. Much like their First Round loss to Washington last season, the opponent will prove to be too much for Toronto.

Flyers vs Penguins

Why the Penguins win: You see them up front? They’re loaded. You’ve got Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, and Riley Sheahan (who has exceeded expectations since being acquired from Detroit early in the season). Phil Kessel had the best year of his career. The Penguins powerplay (tops in the league at 26.2 percent this season) is a threat to score in any man-advantage, especially against a Philadelphia unit that was third-worst in the league this season, better than only also-rans Canadiens and Islanders. The Pens, who are 30-9-2 in their own building this season, have home-ice advantage.

Meanwhile Malkin continues to be his usual, filthy self.

Why the Flyers win: You need defense and goaltending to win this time of year. The Philadelphia blue line is better than Pittsburgh’s. Ivan Provorov could be the best defenseman in this series. Matt Murray has had a rough season, both on and off the ice. If the forever-plagued-with-goalieitis Flyers get just enough stops in net, that could mean trouble for Pittsburgh. Up front, the Flyers are capable of matching what the Penguins bring.

Player that proves to be the difference: Matt Murray.. I really think it all comes down to which Matt Murray we see in net. This hasn’t been an easy season for the 23-year-old by any stretch. But he tends to raise his level when the games become bigger.

What happens: Penguins in 7. There’s going to be some ugly hockey played in this series. Probably quite a few high-scoring games, some bad defense, spotty goaltending, knowing the history of these teams I’m sure tempers will boil over at some point. But in the end, Pittsburgh finds a way to pull it out.

Blue Jackets vs Capitals

Why the Capitals win: This Caps team has two things going for them: 1) They enter the playoffs flying under the radar, 2) They enter the postseason playing their best hockey, winning 12 of their final 15 regular season games. All they need is the goaltending to hold up, which is a big if.

Why the Blue Jackets win: While the Blue Jackets didn’t create any real fireworks at the trade deadline, they did make some savvy, albeit unheralded moves that have paid off in the aftermath, particularly the acquisitions of Thomas Vanek and Ian Cole. Columbus made a strong finishing kick, which included a 10-game winning streak during March.

Player that proves to be the difference: Seth Jones.. One of the NHL’s best defensemen, Jones and D-partner Zach Werenski will be tasked with shutting down Alex Ovechkin. If they’re effective in doing so, it dramatically changes the outlook on this series.

Something you might want to know: The Blue Jackets finished the regular season with 97 points, second-most in franchise history behind last season, when they picked up 108.

What happens: Blue Jackets in 7. This has the potential to be a really good series. Both teams come in playing well. It all comes down to goaltending. I’ll take Sergei Bobrovsky (in spite of his suspect record in the playoffs) over whatever Washington sends out, whether that’s Braden Holtby or Philipp Grubauer.