If there was a mercy rule, it would have been invoked in the first period.
If teams weren’t required to go the distance, officials would have stopped the fight.
If Toronto had a white flag to wave, it would have done so when it yanked its starting goaltender.
Game 4 of the opening-round series between the Lightning and Maple Leafs on Sunday at Amalie Arena was as one-sided as a playoff game can get, decided before it was eight minutes old.
Steven Stamkos, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Pat Maroon scored in the first 7:58, and the Lightning led by three before the Maple Leafs had their second shot on goal.
It was the fastest three goals to start a playoff game in franchise history.
Tampa Bay set the tone from the opening faceoff, when Ross Colton exchanged pushes and shoves with Ilya Mikheyev, then flattened Mark Giordano in the Toronto end.
The Lightning spent most of the first minute in the Leafs’ zone, and Stamkos’ blast from the high slot put them ahead 1-0 exactly 60 seconds into the game.
Before the Leafs knew what hit them, Bellemare was making like Sidney Crosby, Maroon like Connor McDavid. Six minutes into the second period, Toronto trailed by five goals.
More than 33 minutes remained in the game when the Leafs replaced goaltender Jack Campbell with backup Erik Kallgren.
The Lightning — playing with speed, getting pucks out of their zone, pressing the forecheck, creating turnovers and getting bodies to the net — were more dominant than at any point in the series.
If Tampa Bay, trailing after the first three games, entered Game 4 as the desperate team, it was Toronto scrambling to get back into contention for the final 52 minutes.
It never got close, and now you’ve got to wonder about the Leafs’ confidence heading into Game 5 in Toronto. Remember, this is a team that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1967 or a playoff series since 2004 and blew a 3-1 series lead to the Canadiens in the first round last season.
You can bet their fans won’t let them forget.
Advantage: Lightning. Big time.
Here is how we graded the rest of the Lightning’s performance in their 7-3 win in Game 4:
Rolling right along
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You hear it all the time when analysts break down the Lightning’s strengths: They can roll four lines.
Sunday, their fourth line was on a roll.
Every member of the Lightning’s self-dubbed “School Bus Line” scored as the line combined for three of Tampa Bay’s five goals that did not go into an empty net.
Bellemare scored Tampa Bay’s second goal by putting a puck that caromed off the end boards up over Campbell’s glove from low in the slot for only his third goal in 60 career playoff games.
Maroon drove to the net after a great outlet pass from Mikhail Sergachev, deked Campbell to the ice and then scored on his own rebound.
Corey Perry scored from low in the left circle on a 5-on-3 power play, extending the Lightning lead to 5-0 and chasing Campbell from the net.
Scoring depth doesn’t get much deeper than that.
Pointedly, the best
Center Brayden Point didn’t score a goal, but he again was the Lightning’s best player on the ice.
Point skated with urgency from the start, grabbing the puck and taking control of the game. He went coast to coast at every opportunity, maneuvering around defenders like they were pylons and driving the Toronto net.
While his line didn’t have to play against Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner the entire game as the Lightning rolled their lines after getting the big lead, you can bet that it played a big part in limiting Matthews to one assist.
Point even showed some feistiness near the end of the game, cross-checking Morgan Rielly after the two raced to a puck, then briefly mixing it up with the Toronto defenseman before officials separated the two.
Flight and fight.
Count on Colton
Despite a rookie season in which he scored nine times in 30 games, many didn’t know Ross Colton’s name until he tallied the winning goal in the Lightning’s Stanley Cup-clinching victory over the Canadiens in July.
It was a sign of things to come for Colton, who is making a habit of showing up in big moments.
Colton scored twice Sunday, including the eventual winner, as the Lightning won a game they needed in order to avoid falling into a 3-1 hole in the series.
Quietly, Colton has followed a 22-goal, 39-point regular season with three goals in four playoff games.
It’s no accident. He is heavy on the forecheck, keeps his feet moving and gets to the tough areas of the ice, where he scores many of his goals.
“I look at Ross as a gamer,” Maroon said afterward.
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