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Burns: 3 Things we learned from bouncing back in a big way

Beat writer Bryan Burns recaps the Lightning's 7-3 victory over the Maple Leafs

by Bryan Burns /

The Lightning were frustrated following a 4-3 overtime loss in Carolina on Sunday, the Bolts blowing a two-goal lead and registering just two shots in the final 40-plus minutes of the game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs felt the wrath of a team looking for retribution Thursday.

Tampa Bay and Toronto went back-and-forth in the opening period, each team scoring three goals in a showdown between two of the National Hockey League's top offenses before the Lightning took control, scoring the final four goals in a decisive 7-3 victory at Scotiabank Arena.

In the process, the Lightning picked up their first road victory in their third try this season.

There was plenty to like about Tampa Bay's game in Toronto.

Here's what really had us buzzing.

Video: Brayden Point on season debut

Lightning center Brayden Point made his 2019-20 season debut in Toronto after missing the first three games while he recovered from offseason hip surgery.

The Bolts got a sense of just how valuable Point is to their lineup in his first shift of the game.

With both teams scrambling for the opening goal, Point collected a rebound in front of the Leafs net, battled through a defender on his back trying to knock him and the puck away from goal and managed to backhand a shot past Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen to give the Lightning an early 1-0 lead.

Point scored just 2:28 into his first game of the season.

"That's big," Point said about scoring so soon into his debut. "It gives you a lot of confidence."

Point's second goal was beautifully constructed and demonstrated just how much of a force the 23 year old is on the ice. Point started the play by racing with the puck from his own end up the left-hand side of the ice near the boards and into the zone. With the Leafs defenseman in front of him backing off to account for his speed, Point left the puck at the blue line for Stamkos, who then cut with the puck to the center of the ice. Kucherov came trailing behind Stamkos, and the Lightning captain dropped a pass for Kucherov to hammer into the vacated opening, Point getting a deflection on the shot at the net.

That goal put the Lightning up 5-3 and started to create some separation from the Leafs.

"The speed alone, it's game-changing speed. It's up there with Connor McDavid," Stamkos marveled about Point.

On the night, Point scored two goals, added an assist for a three-point night, was plus-two and finished with five shots, tied with Tyler Johnson for the most on the Bolts.

He also reached the 200-point milestone for his career with his assist on Stamkos' late first period power-play goal that put the Lightning in front for good.

Not bad for having not played a competitive game in nearly six months.

"We didn't know how Pointer was going to be out there having not played a game, but he was amazing," Stamkos said.

Video: TBL@TOR: Point tips Kucherov's pass for goal

Brayden Point didn't do all of the heavy lifting in Tampa Bay's convincing win.

His linemates Kucherov and Stamkos shared in the responsibility and produced two of the better games of their career too.

Kucherov entered Thursday's game having gone two-straight games without a point, but he more than made up for that scoring drought with two goals and two assists in Toronto.

Stamkos extended his goal streak to three games - he now needs just four more goals to reach 400 for his career - and added three assists for a four-point night of his own.

Combined with Point's three points, the Lightning's top line accounted for 11 total points.

"That line drove the bus for us tonight," head coach Jon Cooper said.

The Lightning have been reluctant in the past to put all three of their top scorers on the same line, choosing last season to pair Point with Kucherov and move Stamkos to another line, a philosophy that proved highly effective with all three netting 40 goals, all three registering career highs for scoring and Kucherov producing a 128-point season that was the best in the NHL since 1995-96.

But after seeing what the three can do on a line together, at least for one night, the Lightning might want to rethink that strategy.

"Anytime you get a chance to play on a line like that, you want to take advantage of it," Stamkos said. "You never how many chances you're going to get."

The Lightning still might decide to split up the talented trio in some fashion, particularly if the offense stagnates over a sustained period.

But Cooper and his coaching staff know they potentially have the NHL's best line at their disposal whenever they want to utilize it.

"The thing about our team, we have so many talented players that whatever line combo it is, you're playing with great players," Point said. "It's a luxury to have."

Video: TBL@TOR: Stamkos finishes nice passing for PPG

Tampa Bay's power play looked as good as it has all season, maybe even as good as it looked last season - and it was pretty dang good in 2018-19 scoring at a League-best 28.2 percent clip - in going 2-for-3 in Toronto on Thursday.

The Lightning moved the puck around at will on their first attempt, producing three high quality chances before Nikita Kucherov lined up a one-timer from the top of the right circle to tie the game 2-2, a set play off the face-off where Cirelli won the puck back to Victor Hedman and Hedman, playing in his 700th career game, putting in on a tee for Kucherov.

"The big thing for those is execution. You've got to win the face-off and then you've got to put it in his wheelhouse," Cooper said. "Both those things happened and a gifted goal scorer's going to put it in."

With less than a minute left in the first period and the game tied 3-3, the Lightning struck again on the power play, this time Point making an off-balance pass to the slot for Cirelli, who spun around and knew Stamkos would be waiting in the lower left circle. Stamkos was true with his one-timer, and the Lightning would never look back.

More than any other factor, the power play might have been the game-changer for the Lightning in Toronto. Kucherov's goal took momentum away from Toronto after the Leafs scored a pair of goals in quick succession to grab their only lead of the game. Stamkos' goal gave the Lightning a lead heading into the first intermission at a time Toronto probably felt it deserved to be no worse than tied at the break.
"Going on the power play is a privilege, it's not a right," Cooper said. "And you have to work. Because you know the penalty kill's going to work. I thought those guys did an unreal job just not only shooting but they retrieved pucks. That's a big part of power plays. You've got to go get them once you take a shot. And they did a great job of that."

Tampa Bay scored multiple power play goals for the first time this season, something they did with regularity in 2018-19.

If the Lightning continue to move the puck as quickly and as sharply as they did in Toronto, there will be plenty more multi-power-play goal games in their future.

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