The Canadian Press
TORONTO–Auston Matthews set a franchise record for the 102-year-old Maple Leafs last night but his eyes are on the rest of Toronto’s season.
Matthews scored in a four-goal second period as Toronto downed the Buffalo Sabres 5-3. It made him the first Leafs’ player to score 30 or more goals in the first three seasons of his career.
“It’s pretty humbling,” said Matthews, who had 40 goals in his rookie campaign and then 34 last season.
“Luckily, my first years I played with great players on any given night,” he noted. “Guys that can move the puck and make plays.
“I just do what I do,” Matthews added. “I’m kind of a shoot-first guy, try to score.
“It’s how I’ve always been.”
John Tavares, Frederik Gauthier, and Tyler Ennis also scored in Toronto’s four-goal outburst as the Leafs (38-20-4) held on for their second-straight win.
Kasperi Kapanen added some insurance with an unassisted short-handed goal in the third.
Toronto general manager Kyle Dubas was fairly quiet on the NHL’s trade deadline yesterday afternoon, only sending Par Lindholm to the Winnipeg Jets for Nic Petan in a swap of forwards.
Toronto’s big move came on Jan. 29 when it acquired veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin in a trade with the L.A. Kings.
Matthews felt it was important to get a statement win after the trade deadline had passed and to carry some momentum into the final months of the season.
“We have a lot of faith in each other in this locker-room,” he noted. “Looking around, we’ve got a lot of depth and we’ve got a lot of belief in one another.
“We’re hitting that point in the year where we’ve got to take another step and really dial it in.”
Frederik Andersen made 30 saves for his 100th win for Toronto–just the eighth goalie in franchise history to accomplish the feat and requiring the fewest starts to do it.
“I feel good,” said Andersen, who has made seven-straight starts. “Just trying to take it one game at a time, and get some rest when we do get days off and make sure I recover.”
Jack Eichel scored twice for Buffalo (29-25-8) while Sam Reinhart added a goal and an assist.
“We had like seven or eight minutes of bad hockey where we let them get behind us, and that was it,” said Eichel.
After Eichel opened the scoring with a power-play goal in the final minute of the first period, the Leafs came out flying in the second.
Tavares redirected a slapshot from Muzzin past Hutton to tie the game 1-1 at the 3:48 mark of the period, nine seconds after a Sabres’ penalty expired.
Matthews scored while the P.A. announcer still was giving details on Tavares’ goal.
The puck deflected off a defender’s skate and right to Matthews’ stick. He made no mistake, swatting it into the net.
Gauthier piled on just 28 seconds later, taking a pass with his back to the net and slipping a backhand shot past Carter Hutton.
That ended Hutton’s night, with Linus Ullmark coming on in relief.
Ennis made it 4-1 a little over seven minutes later on a breakaway. Gauthier assisted on that goal and on his next shift, Sabres’ defenceman Zach Bogosian offered to fight him to complete the Gordie Howe hat trick.
“He kind of smiled when he asked me, so I smiled back as I said no,” Gauthier noted.
The Sabres answered back with 2:35 left in the second when Reinhart completed a tic-tac-toe passing play while Buffalo held the man advantage.
Eichel scored nine seconds into the third period, cutting Toronto’s lead to 4-3 and sucking the air out of Scotiabank Arena.
Matthews took a tripping penalty late in the third, but Kapanen stole the puck on a turnover and put away his 19th goal of the season on a breakaway with 2:18 left in the game.
Elsewhere in the NHL, New Jersey beat Montreal 2-1, Nashville downed Edmonton 3-2 (SO), Vancouver blanked Anaheim 4-0, Tampa Bay edged L.A. 4-3 (SO), and Florida shaded Colorado 4-3 (OT).