TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews looked a little sheepish after scoring his 50th goal in an empty net last month. The way the Maple Leafs sniper pocketed the number 60 looked a lot more like this.
Matthews scored twice, the second on one of his carded snaps, to become the third player in the NHL’s salary cap era to score 60 goals in a season as Toronto beat the Detroit Red Wings 3- 0 Tuesday night.
After being thwarted by Red Wings keeper Alex Nedeljkovic on some good first-half looks, Matthews scored his 59th in a close game with just over four minutes left in the second to set the stage for his 60th in the third.
The 24-year-old saved a puck to the offensive blue line on a power play and moved into the slot before ripping a puck past Nedeljkovic’s glove to send the crowd at Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.
“It was pretty special,” Matthews said. “Just the welcome from my teammates, the crowd, I mean, everything. It just sends shivers down your bones.
Fans burst into deafening chants of “MVP! MVP!” for a superstar who they believe is richly deserving of his first Hart Trophy as league MVP.
“Just the way he does it, the way he does it, the consistency, some of the things he’s done…you keep shaking your head,” said captain John Tavares, who had the another Toronto goal.
Matthews, who had gone five games without scoring, joined Steven Stamkos in 2011-12 and Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 as the only players to reach 60 goals since the mid-1990s.
“Pretty unreal,” Tavares added. “A huge amount of love from the fans and a great way to do it.”
Matthews has also scored 51 goals in 50 games.
“It’s unique, it’s rare,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I’m just very happy for him. He works extremely hard.
Jack Campbell made 20 saves to record his fifth shutout of the season for Toronto (53-21-7), which clinched home ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and also set a franchise record with its 30th home win of the season. William Nylander added two assists.
The Leafs are locked in the second seed in the Atlantic Division and will open the playoffs next week at Scotiabank Arena against the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’re working towards something bigger,” Matthews said. “Definitely a time for us to enjoy and be happy. But the work is not done, the work is not finished.
Nedeljkovic stopped 33 shots for Detroit (31-40-10), including those big early saves on Matthews.
“Ned played well,” Wings forward Sam Gagner said. “If you score 60, you find ways to do it, no matter who you’re up against. He’s a really special player. »
Matthews, who played his third straight game after missing three in a row with an undisclosed injury, solved Nedeljkovic with 4:12 left in second on a backhand.
And after Tavares doubled the Leafs’ lead at 4:03 of the third with his 27th, Matthews buried number 60 at 5:49 on a play that was tight at the blue line.
Some fans threw hats on the ice in honor of the achievement, while his teammates gave him a standing ovation on the bench.
“It means a lot,” Matthews said. “How close we are and this locker room is like a family in there and a brotherhood.
“That’s the whole story.”
NOTES: Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin, who only played for the 46th time in 2021-22, returned to the roster after missing the last six games with an undisclosed injury. … Alexander Kerfoot got the call on the left side of the Leafs front row with Matthews and Mitch Marner as Michael Bunting (lower body injury) missed his second straight game. … Marner needs three points in Friday’s regular season finale against Boston to become the fourth player in franchise history to reach the milestone of the century, joining Matthews, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour.
Red Wings: At New Jersey on Friday night.
Maple Leafs: Host the Boston Bruins on Friday night.
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