On Thursday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning routed the Toronto Maple Leafs 8-1, looking more like the championship-caliber team many expect them to be. Alex Killorn, Ross Colton, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat, and Pat Maroon scored for the Lightning. Ilya Mikheyev scored the lone goal for Toronto. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 35 of 36 shots, while Erik Kallgren stopped 28 of 36. The Lightning went 4-for-6 on the power-play while Toronto went 1-for-5. Brayden Point and Auston Matthews both missed tonight’s game with undisclosed injuries. This game marked the most goals scored by Tampa Bay this season and the most goals allowed by Toronto since 2016.
Tampa Bay wasn’t perfect this evening; there were still awkward decisions sprinkled throughout the game (when it was still competitive), too many odd-man rushes against, and far too much emphasis on passing out of shooting positions. However, they took a much-needed step in the right direction with tonight’s performance, highlighted by franchise milestones set by Stamkos and Kucherov.
On the Lightning’s third goal of the evening, Stamkos cemented his status as a Lightning legend passing Martin St. Louis for the most points in franchise history (954). We’ve watched the former 1st overall pick score 50 goals twice in a season and 60 once. We’ve seen him play in three Stanley Cup Finals, winning two championships, and scoring what could be argued is the greatest Lightning playoff goal in franchise history. All while dealing with a myriad of injuries that sapped a large portion of his prime years. His jubilation after passing St. Louis is all anyone needs to see.
What makes this accomplishment even better? He did it against his hometown team on the power-play and with his iconic one-timer.
Another milestone saw Kucherov become the fastest player in Lightning history to reach 600 points (557 games) on Stamkos’ goal. He also became the fastest to 601 just a few minutes later.
Tampa Bay’s opening period showed a more focused team against their most likely first-round opponent. They controlled play well, limited chances against, made smart decisions with the puck, and forced Toronto to scramble more than they would have liked. The Leafs had their pushes, but the Lightning did an exceptional job keeping them on the perimeter and keeping Vasilevskiy’s crease free from traffic. No goals were scored in the period, but the process laid out by Tampa Bay was almost everything one could want (just like the Detroit game...until their collapse).
The fireworks started in the second period when Tampa Bay blasted Toronto for four unanswered goals—the two highlighted goals for Stamkos and Kucherov and from Killorn and Colton.
I remember when a very vocal part of the Lightning fanbase saw Killorn’s contract as bloated, overpaid, and sure to doom Tampa Bay’s cap situation. Well, Killorn has basically had a career year in two of his past three seasons (2019-2020 for goals and this season for points), been a crucial leader for the team, and is one of the most versatile weapons Tampa Bay can put on the ice; talk about a flip.
Entering the season, expecting Colton to score 20 goals felt like a stretch. He felt more like a 10-15 goal, 25-35 point player who can fit right into the middle of Tampa Bay’s lineup. With this and his second goal later in the game, Colton hit 21 goals and 37 points.
The most important thing to take away from the Lightning’s four second-period goals is how they scored them. Hard on the forecheck, relentless puck retrieval, being in the right spot, outworking the opponent, and not giving up an inch of ice. It’s something the team has struggled to do consistently over the past month and a trait that hopefully sticks around after a game like this against a playoff opponent.
The end of the period saw Maroon and Wayne Simmonds drop the gloves for a relatively uneventful fight, but it would foreshadow the mess in the third period.
Within the first minute and a half, Tampa Bay made it 5-0.
Toronto’s Michael Bunting nearly had a goal on a backhand that slipped through Vasilevskiy’s five-hole but hit the post and caromed out. Bunting then took a penalty, and the Lightning extended their lead again.
A string of penalties ensued as Toronto went into message sending mode. Toronto finally broke the shutout bid on a power-play goal from Mikheyev near the period's midway point.
Toronto started another scrum that saw Kyle Clifford be ejected and another string of penalties called which put both teams at 4-on-4. Tampa Bay answered quickly.
More jawing and jackassery ensued for the remainder of the period. Maroon scored to add insult to injury before being ejected with Simmonds for inciting.
But wait, we’re not done! Corey Perry apparently said something to Bunting that made the rookie throw a temper tantrum that saw him get ejected (and Perry penalized). Cal Foote and Alex Kerfoot also got into a scuffle.
There were 114 total penalty minutes between the two teams—65 for Toronto and 49 for Tampa Bay.
This game went off the rails after the Lightning went up 5-0 early in the third, and while Leafs fans will howl that the game meant nothing without Matthews in the lineup or Jack Campbell, this felt like a revenge game for Tampa Bay—no matter the circumstances. They wanted to make a point, and their play from start to finish emphatically reminded Toronto what they could look like when they’re not shooting themselves in the foot.
Toronto looked lethargic and near disinterested for most of the game; it's hard to blame them. They’re essentially locked into the number two spot in the division sans a complete collapse to close out the season. Kallgren was left on his own after a strong opening period and dealt with the full brunt of Tampa Bay’s offensive explosion. Have to feel for the young netminder a little bit.
As for Tampa Bay, this is a game you build off of; Toronto didn’t have their best player or best goaltender in net, but the process the Lightning utilized to dismantle a very good playoff roster is exactly what this team needs to iron out their game heading into the post season. The issue now lays at the team’s feet to maintain consistency, which has been the problem.