Twelve games into his NHL career, the zero in the goal column on Brayden Point's season stat sheet had begun to linger in the mind of the young Lightning forward.
Time after time, it seemed the 20-year-old was finally destined to find the back of the net. But with each chance, the puck had inched the wrong way -- skidding a little too far to the left or right, or over the net entirely. He'd scored twice in shootouts, against Florida on Oct. 19 and Boston on Thursday, but he still sought that first goal in play.
"It does kind of wear on you, obviously," Point admitted.
On Saturday night against the New Jersey Devils, Tampa Bay's 2014 third-round pick saw yet another opportunity come his way. This time, he made the most of it.
Video: NJD@TBL: Point deflects in first career goalThree seconds into a third-period power play, on a blast by Nikita Kucherov, Point poked the back of his stick out and redirected the shot over the left shoulder of Cory Schneider to nab his first-career goal in a 4-1 Lightning victory.
As the horn sounded and a sold-out AMALIE Arena crowd leaped to its feet, Point raised his arms into the air in jubilation and tilted his head skyward. What he had waited an eternity for was reality at last.
"It's awesome," Point said. "Obviously, it was kind of a long-time coming. But it feels good and it's kind of a relief to get it over with now. But it was awesome."
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said he was elated for Point, who, as a prospect, impressed the club enough in training camp and preseason that it named him to its opening night roster last month.
"You talk about a kid that deserved a goal, nobody deserved a goal more than him," Cooper said. "Hopefully this just opens the floodgates for him, because he's been ironclad for us."
Though the night was a memorable one for Point and the Lightning (7-4-1), it didn't start that way in the team's final meeting with the Devils this regular season. A sluggish start in the first period quickly led to another early hole as Damon Severson gave New Jersey a 1-0 advantage on a shot that got past Ben Bishop a little more than 14 minutes in.
But with Bishop standing tall three days after undergoing surgery to replace his two front teeth, withstanding a flurry of shots on multiple occasions, the Bolts clawed their way back with a dominant second-period effort.
Video: NJD@TBL: Boyle buries Hedman's cross-ice feed
Brian Boyle struck first, tapping in a cross-ice feed from Victor Hedman to open the period, knotting things 1-1. Then, seconds after it appeared Kucherov had given the Lightning a lead on a shot that went off the left post and flamed out while skidding along the goal line, Hedman blasted a no-doubter from the blue line six minutes later.
It was an advantage Tampa Bay never relinquished as it outshot New Jersey 21-8 in the period.
"We put on a great performance in the second period … " said Hedman, whose 187th career assist tied Dan Boyle's franchise mark for the most by a Lightning defenseman.
"It said a lot about the character, but obviously the start is an issue for us, and we've got to be better at it and come out with a solution."
In the third, Point nearly got his goal on a nifty spin-o-rama play that deflected off Schneider and wound up behind the net. Moments later, on the Lightning's fourth power-play opportunity of the night, Point finally hit pay dirt.
"Of all the shots he's had on net, probably that was the one you weren't thinking was going in," Cooper said. "But that was a big goal for us, because the game was still in the balance and that gave us a little breathing room."
Video: NJD@TBL: Kucherov shows off speed, slides in backhandKucherov capped the night by adding an insurance tally with 5:46 remaining. Bishop finished with 37 saves to pick up his fifth victory.
After the game, Point was presented with the puck from what he hopes will be the first of many more memorable moments to come.
"For somebody just coming into the league, I'm sure people look at the stat sheet and say, 'Well, gosh, no goals and a couple assists' or whatever he had," Cooper said. "But he's made such a positive impact on our team. And you watch him on the ice and more often than not, you're walking back into the room saying … he arguably was our best player on the ice.
"You could just see the relief that was on his face. I was really excited for him. The whole team was."