The New Jersey Devils have their hands full with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Through two games, the Bolts have scored ten goals and have just missed out on several others. New Jersey was always going to be an underdog in this series and realistically had to play perfect hockey in order to compete. They can’t afford any defensive mistakes, especially in their own zone. Bad things happen.
Case in point: Brayden Point scores his first NHL playoff goal.
The clip starts at the second most important part of the goal.
New Jersey is changing lines and the puck is sent down toward the Lightning zone. Tyler Johnson corrals the puck and quickly realizes that Taylor Hall is within a 10-foot radius of the puck. So, he does the smart thing - he gets the puck as far away from Hall as possible. Nico Hischier is hanging around as well. If those two smother Johnson and cause a turnover, bad things are going to ensue.
Johnson’s clearing attempt is successful in the sense that it got the puck away from the Devil’s two greatest offensive threats. It is not one-hundred percent successful because the puck is bouncing wildly as it crossed center ice. Ryan McDonagh, who appears to be heading toward the bench for a change of his own, is in the vicinity to play it. This is where things go a little sideways.
McDonagh’s intention is to drive the puck deep into the Devil’s zone so that the Lightning could safely complete their line change. Because of the randomness of the hopping puck, the Tampa defenseman doesn’t really make clean contact. The puck doesn’t plunk off of the boards behind Keith Kincaid. Instead, McDonagh’s shot is kind of knocked off its intended path, and it redirects to Ondrej Palat, who is at the blue line.
Look at where that puck is in that blurry screenshot. It bounces to the top of Palat’s stick. He is able to settle it down, and he knows that Point is racing toward the offensive zone, so he put a clean pass into an area where Point could skate into it. If Palat can’t control the puck, he either flubs the pass or chooses the safe option and dumps it behind the defense.
It’s a little play, but remarkable none the less.
Another thing to notice is that Jersey’s defense is also changing (see number 2 climbing into the bench). They are also out of position for Palat’s pass. Damon Severson is positioned to go after McDonagh’s dump in, so he is not in position to recognize the new threat - Point.
This small mistake - less than a second is off the clock between McDonagh’s whiff and Palat’s pass - is all the Lightning needs. Andy Greene is the Devil coming off of the bench and sees the danger as it is evolving. He tries in vein to warn his defensive partner.
Greene has peeled away from Palat, who is taken out by Kyle Palmeri and is looking at Severson while gesturing with his stick at Point, indicating that Severson should do something to stop him. As Severson lacks the power to teleport, there is really nothing he can do at this juncture. He is not going to be able to cover that much ice to prevent a clean look from a player with average skating speed, much less one of the fastest skaters in the league.
Keith Kincaid is now on his own. The best Greene and Severson can do is hope their goaltender makes the save and they can clear the rebound, or hope that Point chooses to cut in front of the net and then, maybe, Greene can tie him up. Kincaid comes out to the top of his crease, determined to take the bottom of the net away from Point.
He is successful. In that photo Point, who is watching the goalie the entire way, has absolutely nothing low to shoot at. The five-hole is covered and Kincaid’s pads are on the ice, so the puck isn’t going under him. With that angle, it appears that Kincaid may have crouched down too low, but his focus on cutting off that part of the ice. He concedes the top half of the net because that is a much tougher shot.
The angle is acute and Point has to get it over Kincaid and under the crossbar while quickly running out if space. Greene is almost in a position to slash at Point’s stick and disrupt the shot. A majority of the time the player shoots it into the goaltender or over the net. The window he has to put the puck in is extremely small and the timing has to be right. If he shoots it too soon it goes high, but too late it’s smothered by Kincaid.
Point releases the puck at just the right time and clips it off the bottom of the crossbar (puck is highlighted below) and into the net. Greene arrives just a bit too late to disrupt the shot.
Just like that the Lightning are up 1-0 and Point has his first career postseason goal. It’s easy to blame Severson for the goal - if he had stepped up to Point initially then the play is blown up - but that can be a bit harsh. He was reading the play correctly for what was supposed to happen with McDonagh dumping the puck in. But that lucky bounce for the Lightning - and the half-second it took Severson to realize that things weren’t going the way he thought they would - was all it took for the Lightning to pounce and capitalize.