Can Lightning star play Game 5?

Brayden Point led the Lightning in goals in each of their Stanley Cup championship runs the past two years, and the injured center still has a chance to make a difference in this knotted-up series against the Rangers.

While Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper stressed he’d be “surprised” if Point were able to return to the Lightning lineup Thursday night in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden, he didn’t officially rule out the possibility, either.

“I can honestly answer this question with, ‘I don’t know'” Cooper told reporters, Wednesday in Tampa, Fla., ahead of the team’s flight to New York. “I’ll find out when I get on the plane, so I’ll have an answer for [Thursday]. But now we’re getting to the point where, every day, I don’t know if there will be definitive outs.”

The 26-year-old Point has been out since suffering a lower-body injury on May 14 in Game 7 of the first round against the Maple Leafs. But he has been skating with his teammates since the Eastern Conference Final against the Rangers began last week.

Lightning center Brayden Point has been out since suffering an injury in Game 7 against the Maple Leafs in the first round.
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“These are things we thought could happen, but I want to temper everyone’s expectations with what’s going on because obviously it was a significant injury,” Cooper said. “I’m not going to push anything right now, but naturally the longer any series goes, there’s a remote chance that he might be able to play.”

Point led the NHL in goals during each of the previous two postseasons, with 28 goals in 46 games (14 in 23 each year) in the Lightning’s back-to-back championship runs. He recorded two goals and two assists in seven games against Toronto before suffering what appeared to be a right-leg injury on an awkward crash into the boards in the first period of Game 7 against the Leafs.

Nikita Kucherov leads Tampa Bay with seven goals and 21 points through 15 playoff games this spring, beating Igor Shesterkin in each of the past three games against the Rangers.

The Blueshirts won the first two games of the series at home before losing the next two at Amalie Arena, including a 4-1 loss in Game 4 on Tuesday night. Cooper added that he believes his team got off to a slow start in the series due to an eight-day layoff following its sweep of top-seeded Florida in the second round.

“We have our legs,” Cooper said Wednesday. “And I think when you do have that time off, there is a benefit to it. And maybe the benefit comes in Games 5, 6 and 7.”

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