TORONTO (AP) The Tampa Bay Lightning forgot all about their difficult March and opened their postseason with a rout.

Brayden Point scored twice and the Lightning soundly beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 7-3 on Tuesday night in the opening game of the teams' first-round playoff series.

Nikita Kucherov and Corey Perry each had a goal and two assists, and Anthony Cirelli and Ross Colton finished with a goal and an assist for Tampa Bay. Pierre-Edouard Bellemare also scored for the Lightning, who scored four goals on the power play.

“We had a tough March, tough end to the season, but it’s about playoffs,” Perry said. “That’s what we were thinking. We were trying to get our game into shape.”

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in his 100th playoff start.

“We have a plan, we stuck to it,” Perry said. “It’s something that works. Everybody’s buying in.”

Ryan O’Reilly, William Nylander and Calle Jarnkrok scored for Toronto. Mitch Marner had three assists and Auston Matthews added a pair.

“It’s a hard one to explain, no doubt,” said Toronto captain John Tavares, who has gone 0-5 in playoff series since signing in 2018. “We’re disappointed.”

Ilya Samsonov allowed six goals on 29 shots before being replaced by Joseph Woll at the start the third period. The rookie netminder finished with four stops.

“This is just one game for us,” Samsonsov said. “We didn’t think this will be easy series for us.”

Toronto winger Michael Bunting was whistled for a match penalty and game misconduct for an illegal check to the head of Tampa Bay's Erik Cernak. The hit occurred with 4:20 remaining in the second period. Cernak, who did not have the puck, fell backward to the ice and went to the locker room.

“We were on our heels a bit early on,” said Sheldon Keefe, in his fourth post-season as Maple Leafs head coach.

Game 2 in the best-of-seven series is Thursday night in Toronto.

The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs in seven games at the same stage of the playoffs last spring on the way to their third consecutive Stanley Cup appearance. Meanwhile, Toronto is desperately looking to end an ugly string of postseason failures that has seen the franchise fail to advance since 2004.

The Maple Leafs have lost seven straight series dating to 2013, including six in a row with the talented core led by Matthews, Marner and Nylander.

The battle-tested Lightning, meanwhile, won the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021, before falling to the Colorado Avalanche in last year’s championship round.

Tampa opened the scoring just 1:18 into the first period, quieting the raucous, towel-waving crowd when Bellemare scored on a rebound after Zach Aston-Reese couldn’t clear the puck.

The Lightning made it 2-0 six minutes later when Cirelli buried a rebound on a scramble after Toronto gave the puck away in the neutral zone.

Toronto started to push back, with Matthews showing the most fight.

But Tampa Bay took a three-goal lead with just 2.6 seconds remaining in the period on a power play, when Kucherov beat Samsonov with a one-timer to the short side.

Toronto got a goal back on a power play with O’Reilly scoring eight minutes into the second.

Samsonov made a huge stop on Perry before Nylander fired through a screen on another man advantage to make it 3-2.

Toronto defenseman Jake McCabe then levelled Michael Eyssimont, sending the Tampa center to the locker room before Point made it 4-2 on another power play moments later.

“Those (penalty calls) that are borderline, more likely than not are probably gonna go their way,” Tavares said. “They’ve been in finals three times in a row. We have to be just extremely disciplined.”

Bunting match penalty and game misconduct all but ended Toronto's hope for a comeback.

Already minus Victor Hedman, who didn’t take a shift after the opening period, Tampa Bay managed to restore its three-goal lead when Perry jammed a puck in tight at Samsonov’s post two minutes before the intermission.

The play stood after a Toronto challenge for goaltender interference, handing the Lightning a 5-on-3 power play.

The Leafs survived that, but Point scored his second goal of the game with a tenth of a second remaining on the clock for a 6-2 margin.

Toronto was booed off the ice at the intermission buzzer before Colton stretched the lead to five goals on a breakaway seven minutes into the final period.

Jarnkrok got Toronto’s third goal.

“Gotta be a lot better,” Tavares said. “We gotta regroup here, learn from it, and have a short memory.”


Drafted by the Maple Leafs in 2008 and traded away in 2012, veteran defenseman Luke Schenn suited up for his first playoff game with Toronto nearly 15 years after first joining the organization.

The 33-year-old played for six organizations in the interim - including Stanley Cup wins with Tampa in 2020 and 2021 - before the Vancouver Canucks dealt him to Toronto in late February.

“Better late than never,” Schenn said Tuesday morning. “It’s been a long time in the making.”


AP NHL Playoffs: and

Copyright 2023 STATS LLC and Associated Press. Any commercial use or distribution without the express written consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.