NHL

Lightning's top line too much for Leafs

Nikita Kucherov scored twice as part of a four-point night, Brayden Point had two goals and an assist in his season debut, and the Tampa Bay Lightning thumped the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Thursday.

Stamkos, Kucherov, Point combine for 11 points in rout

Tampa Bay Lightning players celebrate a goal during a 7-3 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Thursday. (Cole Burston/Canadian Press)

Steven Stamkos was in a much better mood after the Tampa Bay Lightning's latest effort.

An 11-point night from the top line and a renewed commitment to team structure will do that.

Nikita Kucherov scored twice and added two assists, Brayden Point buried a pair goals and set up another in his season debut, and the Lightning thumped the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Thursday.

Stamkos, who ripped Tampa (2-1-1) following Sunday's 4-3 overtime loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, added a goal and three assists.

The teams combined for seven goals and 27 shots in a wild opening 20 minutes, but the Lightning took charge from there, winning more 50-50 battles and shutting the door against the sloppy Leafs.

WATCH | Leafs fall to Lightning in Toronto:

Tampa Bay's top line records 11 points in 7-3 victory over Toronto. 1:41

"After that crazy first period we really settled down and we defended really well," Stamkos said. "If we can play like we did tonight, you can see what happened."

The Lightning captain was left fuming after the reigning Presidents' Trophy winners were outshot 44-13 in Carolina on Sunday. That effort, or lack thereof, prompted Stamkos to call out his team for its "free-wheeling" approach — one he said played a part in the 62-win club getting swept by Columbus in the first round of the playoffs last spring.

Tampa emphatically turned the tables at Scotiabank Arena.

"We can shut really elite teams down by skating and competing," Stamkos said. "Those are the two things we talked about.

"It was a great response."

Ondrej Palat also scored for the visitors, while Anthony Cirelli chipped in with three assists. Andrei Vasilevskiy made 25 saves as the Lightning halted a two-game slide.

Auston Matthews, with a goal and an assist, John Tavares and Andreas Johnsson replied for Toronto (2-2-1).

Early slide

The Leafs came in also having dropped two straight, including Monday's solid effort in a 3-2 home loss to the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues, but took a big step backwards.

"We just didn't execute at a very high level," Tavares said. "That kind of effort isn't going to win us many hockey games."

Frederik Andersen allowed seven goals on 28 shots before getting the hook in favour of Michael Hutchinson in the third period. Hutchinson finished with five saves.

"Disappointing," Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said. "We didn't play right ... it wasn't a very good night for us."

Tampa's top line of Point, Stamkos and Kucherov — which didn't play together much last season, but combined for 318 points — made a strong case to remain intact.

"So much fun with those guys," said Kucherov, who led the NHL with 128 points in 2018-19. "Hopefully we can continue playing the same way."

Tampa's dazzling combination

With the Lightning up 4-3 after the first, Point — who missed a big chunk of training camp before signing a three-year, $20.25-million US contract as a restricted free agent and then sat out the Lightning's first three games following hip surgery — scored his second goal of the game on one of the visitors' dizzying displays of puck movement.

Stamkos left a pass for Kucherov, who saw his quick shot deflected home by Point at 10:46 of the second.

"You're playing with two superstar players," Point said of his reintegration into the lineup. "They make the game easy."

Stamkos said Point's pace adds another dimension to his already dynamic combination with Kucherov.

"It's game-changing speed," Stamkos said. "It's up there with Connor McDavid in terms of, when it he gets it at a standstill, it's a couple of crossovers and he's gone.

"It just creates so much space."

Tampa put things out of reach at 3:58 of the third when Palat's centring pass glanced in off Leafs winger Kasperi Kapanen.

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