Before the Islanders’ Stanley Cup semifinal series against Tampa Bay even began, Mathew Barzal said he likes to “pick things out” of the game of the Lightning’s Brayden Point to apply to his own.
Considering both players are the top-line centers for their respective teams, it’s understandable why Barzal would want to analyze what has made Point so successful. Especially with how dominant Point has been over the past two postseasons.
“I think any time you watch Pointer play, you have an appreciation for the things he can do on the ice and his work ethic,” Barzal said Friday. “I think he’s one of the hardest competitors in the league, just competes really hard in every zone. I don’t think my appreciation has grown, I think it just continually grows and every time he’s on the ice you really get an appreciation for just how hard he works and how smart of a player he really is.”
Heading into Game 4 on Saturday night at Nassau Coliseum, Point was riding a six-game scoring streak that dated to Game 3 of the Lightning’s second-round series against the Hurricanes. The 25-year-old scored in each of the first three games of the series against the Islanders, including the game-winning goal Thursday.
Point is the 15th player in NHL postseason history to score a goal in six straight games and the only active player to achieve the feat. He is the first player to do so since Martin Havlat in 2006 with the Senators.
After Thursday’s goal, Point upped his postseason point total to 15 in 14 games. He has 11 goals and 14 assists, including six power-play goals and three game-winning tallies. Last season during the bubble playoffs, on the way to winning the Stanley Cup, Point recorded 14 goals and 19 assists — including five goals and three assists in the championship series against the Stars.
He has a knack for coming out of a tight spaces either with the puck or in dangerous scoring position. Islanders coach Barry Trotz said he felt his team did “a pretty good job against [Point’s] line, but pointed out that Point’s game-winner in Game 3 was due to defenseman Andy Greene getting caught out of position.
Trotz has acknowledged the Islanders likely won’t be able to keep Point and the rest of the Lightning’s first line, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, off the board entirely. But it’ll be imperative to limit that trio as best they can.
“You try to take even more space,” Trotz said Saturday morning of containing Point. “The one thing that is a really dangerous thing is he can make plays when you double up on him. He still can make that high-skill play when there’s players [on him]. Players like Brayden and [Nikita] Kucherov and [Artemi] Panarin — which we know from the Rangers — they actually want you to double up on them. They want you to do certain things to them so they can open up other people. That’s the danger.
“You have to find that fine balance of limiting space and time but also not giving him lots of options. We’re just going to have to tighten things up as best as we can.”