TORONTO — Tyler Johnson and Cedric Paquette had two goals each as the NHL-leading Tampa Bay Lightning thumped the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on Monday night.
Anthony Cirelli and Ondrej Palat also scored for Tampa Bay (53-13-4), while Ryan McDonagh, Yanni Gourde and Jan Rutta chipped in with two assists apiece. Nikita Kucherov helped set up the game’s first goal for his league-best 111th point of the season.
Andrei Vasilevskiy made 26 saves to improve to 12-1-2 over his last 15 starts.
Auston Matthews and Connor Brown replied for Toronto (42-22-5). Frederik Andersen, who didn’t get much help from his teammates, allowed four goals on 19 shots before getting the hook less than five minutes into the second period. Garret Sparks finished with 21 saves in relief.
“They pretty much slapped us,” Matthews said.
The first team to clinch a playoff spot, Tampa continues to run away with things atop the Atlantic Division, Eastern Conference and overall standings with 110 points — now 17 better than the Boston Bruins and 21 up on Toronto.
The Lightning became just the seventh team in NHL history to reach 110 points through 70 games, joining the Montreal Canadiens (1975-76, 1976-77 and 1977-78), Boston Bruins (1970-71 and 1971-72) and Detroit Red Wings (1995-96).
Minus winger Kasperi Kapanen because of illness, as well as injured defencemen Jake Gardiner (back) and Travis Dermott (shoulder), the Leafs were playing the first game back at Scotiabank Arena after grabbing five of six points on their annual trip through Western Canada.
“We should have showed a better effort,” Leafs centre Nazem Kadri.
The Lightning, who came in having lost two of their last five in regulation following a 12-0-2 run that included a 10-game winning streak, opened the scoring at 10:07 of the first when McDonagh’s pass in front went off Johnson’s skate and past Andersen for his 23rd goal of the season after Matthews turned the puck over.
Tampa made it 2-0 with 1:22 left in period when Cirelli’s deft deflection from the slot fooled Andersen for his 14th.
Toronto, which was 6-1-1 over its last eight following a 0-2-1 skid, fell behind by three at 4:20 of the second when the rebound of McDonagh’s shot fell to Brayden Point, who kicked the puck into the path of Johnson for a tap-in.
Tampa chased the unlucky Andersen just 30 seconds later when Braydon Coburn’s shot hit Palat and ricocheted in off Matthews for his eighth.
Matthews got Toronto on the board at 11:49 when he stepped past Point — a centre back covering on defence — and beat Vasilevskiy for his 31st off the rush.
But any thought of a comeback was put to rest with 1:44 left in period on a sequence that summed up the Leafs’ night.
Toronto’s No. 1 power-play unit — save for defenceman Morgan Rielly — changed as Tampa threw the puck into the corner short-handed where Sparks was unable to touch it, leading to a shocking 3-on-1 down low that Paquette finished off for his 13th.
Fans then voiced their displeasure with boos as the Leafs, who still sit in fifth in the overall standings, headed to the locker room for the second intermission.
Tampa added its sixth at 5:59 of the third when Paquette tipped his second of the night past Sparks.
Brown scored his sixth with 4.2 seconds left in regulation in a half-empty arena for the 6-2 final.
The teams split their first two meetings in Florida — Vasilevskiy made 48 saves in Tampa’s 4-1 victory on Dec. 13 before Andersen stopped 36 shots in Toronto’s 4-2 triumph on Jan. 17.
Kucherov leads the NHL in points and assists (78), and sat tied for 13th in goals with 33 heading into Monday. The winger surpassed Vincent Lecavalier’s club record of 108 points in a season with two goals in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings.
“He’s got elite edges, elite hockey sense, knows where he’s going with the puck before he gets it. His skating is second-to-none,” Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said following Monday’s morning skate. “He’s playing with good players as well.
“You add it all together and he’s obviously the most dangerous guy in hockey right now.”
Tampa, Boston and Toronto sit with three of the NHL’s top-five records in 2018-19, but only one will survive beyond the second round of the playoffs thanks to the league’s divisional format.
Notes: Unlike these Lightning and their 110 points so far this season, the Canadiens and Bruins of the 1970s, and the Red Wings of the mid-1990s had games end in ties, and didn’t have the benefit of 3-on-3 overtime or shootouts. … McDonagh played the 600th game of his career. … The Leafs and Lightning play one more time in the regular season — the second-last game on the schedule for both teams — April 4 at Scotiabank Arena. … Toronto continues a three-game homestand Wednesday against Chicago. Tampa visits Detroit on Thursday.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press