Maple Leafs’ Matthews hits 60 goals for 2nd time

Maple Leafs' Matthews hits 60 goals for 2nd time

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Toronto Maple Leafs fans travel so well, Auston Matthews became accustomed hearing the chants “We want 60!” whether at home or on the road over the past week.

In Buffalo on Saturday, playing in the same building the Maple Leafs drafted him with the No. 1 pick in 2016, and an arena brimming with fans wearing blue and white jerseys, Matthews delivered.

Sweeping a loose puck into the open left side of the Sabres net with 5:37 left in regulation to cap Toronto’s 3-0 victory, Matthews sparked a electric celebration by becoming the NHL’s first two-time 60-goal scorer in 30 years.

Bending to one knee and punching the air, Matthews was mobbed by his teammates at the boards, while chants of “MVP!” rained from the thousands of Maple Leaf fans who made the 90-minute cross-border trek from Toronto.

“It means a lot, obviously,” Matthews said. “It’s always a fun atmosphere here with all the blue and white in the stands. Definitely pretty cool.”

Matthews matched the franchise record he set when he led the NHL in goals two seasons ago. The 26-year-old joins a group of eight NHL players to have multiple 60-goal seasons, and first since Pavel Bure had back-to-back 60-goal campaigns with the Vancouver Canucks in 1992-93 and 1993-94.

Wayne Gretzky and Mike Bossy lead the list with five 60-goal seasons.

Matthews, from Scottsdale, Arizona, was the first U.S.-born player to score 60 — and he’s now done it twice.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to think about stuff like that. Honestly, it’s special, obviously,” Matthews said, when asked to put his feat into historical context. “I’ve been fortunate to play with some really great players and a supportive team behind us. I just try to go out every day and compete.”

Matthews became just the sixth player to reach 60 goals in the 2000s. Of those players, he trails only Edmonton captain Connor McDavid, who scored 64 last season, and Washington captain Alex Ovechkin, who had 65 in 2007-08.

By scoring, Matthews extended his point streak to seven games, in which he has five goals and eight assist. Of his 60 goals, an NHL-leading 45 have come in even-strength situations.

And Matthews has been on a tear since December. After being limited to 13 goals in his first 21 games, Matthews has combined for 47 in his past 51 — a stretch in which he’s not gone more than two games without scoring.

“He’s had an incredible season, scored in different ways,” coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He does so much for our team. It’s more than just the goals. But for him to get that is great and if you’re not going to get it at home, this is probably second-best. That was great and I loved the way that the fans acknowledged him, too.”

Matthews and the Leafs didn’t have to look far to feel at home.

Right behind the Sabres bench were eight fans wearing white shirts spelling out his name, “M-A-T-T-H-E-W-S.” In celebrating Matthews’ goal, they raised two gold air balloons of a 6 and 0.

The goal was a hustle play by Matthews in which he chased down Sabres defenseman Bowen Byram, who broke his stick while attempting to play the puck in Buffalo’s zone. After his first attempt was stopped by Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, Matthews sent the puck back to the point. Lukkonenen stopped Conor Timmins‘ shot, with Matthews converting the rebound.

“I don’t think he really sets limits on himself. I think he just wants to continue to get better and work on his game adn go out there each and every night and be consistent and impact it,” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who opened the scoring while playing in his 1,100th career game.

Certainly he wants to continue to be one of the best in the world and drive our team, and obviously make an impact with the way he can play the game,” Tavares added. “Obviously, he’s able to score a lot of goals, but his play in all three zones away from the puck with the puck is just exceptional. He’s just the total package.”

Matthews shifted his focus on the win, which inched the Maple Leafs within three points of clinching a playoff spot, and the importance of the final two-plus weeks of the season.

“Obviously, you want to be heading into April trying to feel confident and play your best hockey,” Matthews said. “An important week for us coming up here. It’ll be nice to enjoy this one and come get the focus on what’s to come.”

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.