For the first time since 2004, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play before a home crowd in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sheldon Keefe’s squad clinched second in the Metropolitan Division last night by shutting out the Detroit Red Wings on home ice. But that wasn’t the key takeaway. Auston Matthews is the centre of attention in Leaf-land, as he often is, after clawing his way to a historic 60-goal season.
The 24-year-old became just the third sniper of the salary cap era to reach the 60-goal mark, joining Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos in an illustrious club of NHL lamplighters.
The significance of Matthews’ latest feat is three-pronged: it’s the highest tally of his career, a record figure in the Maple Leafs’ 105-year history, and marks the start of a new era in the sport’s history.
Ovechkin isn’t the NHL’s top marksman anymore; the crown belongs to #34 now.
Auston Matthews Celebrates 60-Goal Season With Home Ice Brace
It took a two-goal performance from the Maple Leafs’ alternate captain to secure his place in the 60-goal club, notching his 59th of the season late in the second period to break the deadlock against the Red Wings.
Matthews’ first of the night arrived in the form of a popular combination play, with the American taming a dished pass from Jason Spezza before sweeping the puck into the net. Shouts of ‘MVP! MVP!’ quickly bubbled up from the Scotiabank Arena crowd.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 27, 2022
The 6-foot-3 centreman didn’t waste any time before knocking No. 60 home. With the Maple Leafs on the power play, Matthews picked up the puck on the right flank and decided it was his to keep. He broke towards the centre, circled at the blue line, and fired a pinpoint wrist shot into the record books.
Welcome to the 60 goal scorer club, Auston Matthews. pic.twitter.com/Ct23JTp3P4
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) April 27, 2022
Again, the Scotiabank Arena erupted.
“It was pretty special, honestly,” Matthews said of the atmosphere in Toronto following his latest strike. “Just the reception from my teammates, the crowd, everything. It just kind of sends chills down your bones. It’s kind of hard to put into words.”
Of his star forward’s newest achievement, Keefe added: “It’s special. It’s unique. It’s rare. I’m just really happy for him. He works extremely hard — I know the abilities that he has, but he works extremely hard at his game, he works extremely hard off the ice. He takes his craft very seriously. So, to see him at the top of his game, and reaching these milestones, it’s outstanding.”
Is Auston Matthews’ Form Sustainable?
It’s difficult to predict how Matthews’ career will pan out from here. Here’s already enjoyed bucketloads of regular-season success with the Maple Leafs, totting up 457 points (259 goals, 198 assists) across 407 appearances.
If not for the pandemic, he’d already have a couple of 50-goal seasons under his belt – such has been the extent of his goal-scoring prowess since entering the league in 2016.
Also of note: Matthews has missed eight games this season and only scored once through his first six appearances of the campaign. He then went on a heater, scoring 50-in-50, without deviating from his career-average 17.2 shooting percentage.
In other words, his form is sustainable – which is a big part of the reason he’s up for the 2021-22 Hart Trophy.
Toronto’s Auston Matthews Has Unfinished Business
You don’t need me to tell you that the Maple Leafs have plenty to prove in the postseason. They haven’t won a series since 2004 and were unceremoniously dumped out of last year’s playoffs by Carey Price’s Montreal Canadiens.
Matthews isn’t immune from Toronto’s postseason yips. He’s scored 13 goals in 32 playoff games, which falls considerably short of his regular-season form.
This year, the Maple Leafs are likely to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in round one of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As a result, Matthews will be expected to go toe-to-toe with Stamkos, the league’s hottest player.
With two goals and two assists tonight, Steven Stamkos has become just the ninth player in NHL history to record five or more consecutive games with 3+ points.@TBLightning | #GoBolts pic.twitter.com/EJ4kSo3n7X
— Hockey Reference (@hockey_ref) April 27, 2022
But, until the puck drops in the playoffs, Toronto can take a while to soak up their star forward’s success.
“The guys were really excited,” Keefe said. “The guys feel so happy for him, because he’s our leader. He does so many other things, and you want to see him get rewarded. And the guys also feel a part of it, as they should. He gives so much to his game and to our team. It’s great for him to have that moment.”