Point for Lightning in game 5 against the Rangers

NEW YORK — Brayden point will not play for the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the New York Rangers on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; ESPN, ESPN+, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Coach Jon Cooper said the forward will miss his ninth straight game with a lower body injury.

“If he plays, he’ll be ready to play,” Cooper said. “He’s not ready to play at the moment.”

On Wednesday, Cooper said Point was advanced enough that playing in Game 5 for the best-of-7 series, which is tied 2-2, isn’t entirely out of the question.

“I can honestly say ‘I don’t know’ to that question,” he said before the Lightning flew to New York. “I’ll find out when I get on the plane, so I’ve got an answer for you tomorrow. But now we’re getting to the point where I don’t know if there will be definitive outs.

“Honestly, I’d be surprised if he played that next game, but I’m not going to sit here and say he’s off for the series anymore.”

Point has missed eight straight games since his injury in Game 7 of the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tampa Bay defeated the Florida Panthers in four games in the second round without him, leveling the series with New York after winning the final two games of the best-of-7 series at home.

Cooper said before the start of the conference finals that the Lightning are preparing as if Point weren’t playing in the series. But after Point skated six of the last seven days and increasing his time on the ice and intensity over time, he’s much closer to being ready to play.

“These are things that we thought could happen, but I want to lower everyone’s expectations with what’s going on because obviously it was a serious injury,” Cooper said. “So I’m not going to force anything now, but the longer a streak lasts, the less likely it is that he’ll be able to play. So I have an answer for you tomorrow.”

[RELATED: Complete Rangers vs. Lightning series coverage]

Point had four points (two goals, two assists) in four playoff games before getting injured. He led Tampa Bay with 14 goals each in the last two playoff runs, culminating in the Stanley Cup title for the Lightning.

“We know he’ll do whatever he can and whenever he says he’s ready to go, of course we’ll welcome him back with open arms,” ​​said the Lightning defense attorney Ryan McDonagh said. “He’s undoubtedly been a huge part of our team’s success over the past few years so we’re excitedly awaiting it and when it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen.”

Tampa Bay is focused on winning a game at Madison Square Garden, where New York is 8-1 this postseason, including wins in their last eight games. After a nine-day hiatus following their win over the Panthers, the Lightning struggled for much of the first two away games of this series.

After losing 6-2 in Game 1, the Lightning played better in the second half of a 3-2 loss in Game 2, returning to their defensive structure and reducing the turnovers that fed Rangers’ speed and transition game. Tampa Bay contributed to a 3-2 win in Game 3 and a 4-1 win in Game 4, not allowing a 5-on-5 goal in either home game.

Now the Lightning must translate what it did at home into a building that has proven difficult for a playoff visitor. But defenders Victor Hedman pointed to Tampa Bay’s 2-0 win in Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals as proof it’s possible.

“We’ve been in this situation before, had to win on the road, and we’ve proven in previous series over the past few years that we can win on the road,” said Hedman. “So we’re taking that experience with us, but obviously we’re faced with the fact that we have to win a game up there, so for us we just have to go out there and do what we did at home.” .”

The Flash took advantage of the recent change on home ice to adjust the line of Brandon Hagel, Anthony Cirelli and Alex Killorn and the defensive pair of McDonagh and Eric Cernak against the Rangers top line Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad and Frank Vatrano. Artemi Panarin replaced Kreider on that line for part of Game 4, but New York’s 5-on-5 game didn’t improve.

The Rangers will have the final change in Game 5, so the Lightning will have a harder time getting this matchup. This makes it more important for Tampa Bay to maintain the other parts of its game that have improved throughout the series.

“I find [it’s] We’re sticking with our structure,” Cirelli said. “I think those two home games are how we want to play most of the game and finish games and I think we just have to have that mentality, that’s in there is we play the same stick to our game plan and good things will happen obviously they have the last change but we shouldn’t care we should just go out there and roll rows and just keep going row by row.

Tampa Bay feels better equipped for this now than it did at the start of the series, having shaken off the rust from its layoff and getting back into the rhythm of playing every other day.

“We saw the area. We now know what to expect,” said Cooper. “We have four games under our belt. We know the team we are playing against. I don’t expect anything to change from them and the way they play, and I don’t expect anything to change from us. We’re just a lot better prepared and a lot more ready to play.

“I won’t guarantee the result, but I’m definitely in a better position than three or four games ago.”

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