The Tampa Bay Lightning defended home ice Tuesday, as they usually do, but the caliber of competition increases Thursday night when they host the Buffalo Sabres in the third meeting between the clubs.

Fueled by a four-goal middle frame against Anaheim, Tampa Bay recorded its franchise-best 15th consecutive game with a point at home by routing the last-place Ducks 6-1.

Tampa Bay is 14-0-1 in that stretch, with the setback being a 4-3 overtime loss to San Jose on Feb. 7. Nikita Kucherov brought his season point total to 80 and extended his home point streak to 18 games with an assist on Brayden Point’s 200th career goal.

Tampa Bay is 22-4-2 at home this season and the only NHL team to average more than four goals per game (4.14) on its sheet of ice.

However, the night’s surprising performance may have been from defenseman Nick Perbix. The rookie matched his career high with three helpers — two coming in the high-powered second period.

While the goals and large margin of victory sounded easy, it was not so early on. Ducks rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal stopped all nine shots in the first period, but the second turned out to be an entirely different situation.

The Eastern Conference champions recorded the first 21 shots on goal in that frame and owned a 22-1 shot margin to go along with a 4-0 lead when the buzzer sounded.

“I think we had to just keep playing our game,” said Perbix, who also had three assists in a 5-2 home win over the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 28. “Obviously, in the first we had our chances but just didn’t bury them. We just stuck to our structure, and they eventually went in.”

But Buffalo — hungry for an Eastern Conference wild-card spot — should present a more formidable opponent than the Ducks, who have 41 points and whose focus is on the NHL draft in late June.

The Sabres are trying to sharpen their game to get into the postseason, but Tuesday night’s 6-3 drubbing by the Toronto Maple Leafs in Buffalo was not the outcome they needed.

It was Toronto’s top line that did in Buffalo coach Don Granato’s group, which faces the Lightning and Florida Panthers before coming home for contests against the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Newly acquired Ryan O’Reilly scored twice in the first five minutes and added an empty-net goal for a hat trick. Mitch Marner set up five goals and John Tavares had a goal and three assists for the Leafs.

Toronto scored on four of its first 10 shots in the opening 12:09 against Sabres goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, prompting Granato to replace him with Craig Anderson

“This was not on ‘UPL’ just so we’re clear on that,” said Granato. “That change was made because we didn’t have the start. They had jump at the start and we didn’t. It was one of those nights where you could see we weren’t processing things well.”

With Buffalo trailing 5-0 after two periods, Jack Quinn, Alex Tuch (100th goal) and Jeff Skinner netted markers before O’Reilly completed his hat trick at 18:50.

–Field Level Media