Perhaps it was two years overdue or the fact that he broke the threshold with an empty-netter, but Auston Matthews was quite calm for someone who just scored his 50th goal of the season.
“It’s pretty special just to do it at home as well,” Matthews said as he barely cracked a smile. “I’ve been really fortunate to play with some special players and special teams throughout these six years, it means a lot.”
Matthews’ teammates mobbed him on the ice when he scored with a shot from his own end of the ice late in the third period. They followed that up by dousing Matthews with water when he walked into the dressing room after the game.
The Scottsdale, Arizona native became the fourth player in Maple Leafs history to score 50 in a season along with Rick Vaive, Gary Leeman and Dave Andreychuk, but he obliterated his predecessors by accomplishing the feat in just 62 games.
But as far as leaning into the milestone? There was none of that from Matthews.
Maybe it was because Matthews was three goals away from 50 during the 2019-20 NHL season when the COVID-19 pandemic brought an abrupt end to the season. Maybe because, as William Nylander put on Saturday in Montreal, that the team knew it was coming this season.
Or maybe it was because it was because it almost didn’t happen on Thursday.
“Maybe the best play of the day was David Kampf hitting the post and keeping the play alive for us,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe joked.
More likely, it is Matthews’ commitment to team achievements rather than personal milestones.
“It means a lot, but in the end it’s about winning,” Matthews said on Saturday. “It’s about playing a long time in the spring and having that success deep into the summer. I think that stuff obviously helps and hopefully prolong that but in my mind, it’s about winning games and making sure that (I’m) playing the right way and just the little details out there.”
Mark Giordano scored his first goal as a member of the Maple Leafs on Thursday. Acquired in a trade by the Maple Leafs along with forward Colin Blackwell from the Seattle Kraken in exchange for a pair of second-round picks and a third-round draft pick. Giordano’s big takeaway was in Matthews’ details.”
“I’ve been more impressed, honestly, watching him play defensively since I’ve been here,” Giordano said of Matthews. “It’s been unreal the way he backchecks and plays in his own end, but when he gets those chances it’s pretty cool and that was moment was pretty special.”
So if Matthews won’t revel in it, his teammates will.
William Nylander recalled being in the stands to watch his father Michael play in a game when Alex Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season during the 2008-09 season.
“That was the game where he did (motions to putting out a stick on fire with his hands) that celebration,” Nylander said. “It brought back some memories, but it’s just incredible. Well deserved.”
Matthews’ .806 goals per game certainly makes you wonder what if.
What if Matthews’ didn’t require wrist surgery late into the offseason and miss the first three games of the regular season? His one goal in his first six games of the season seem like a distant memory. What if Matthews wasn’t suspended two games this month for his crosscheck to Buffalo Sabres defenceman Rasmus Dahlin?
With his goal on Thursday, Matthews finished with 13 goals in March, a new career-high for tallies in a calendar month. And that’s while missing those two games.
Matthews has 17 goals in his last 16 games and with just 15 games left in the regular season, there are two more milestones for Matthews to hit.
There’s the franchise-record 54 goals scored in a season Rick Vaive set during the 1981-82 season. While that’s clearly within range, the big question is can Matthews get to 60 goals, a feat not accomplished since Steven Stamkos scored 60 with the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 2011-12 season.
“This won’t be the last time we have the opportunity to talk about him doing something special,” Keefe said of Matthews.
It was Oct. 12, 2016 when Matthews broke into the NHL broke the league record by scoring four goals in his first NHL game. Although it came in a losing cause, he barely let any emotion come out after the game.
Since that time, he’s seen his team go through many disappointing team results. Five consecutive post-seasons with opening-round exits.
It’s clear his focus has been on changing that and his all-business approach is what will carry him well as March turns to April and then April turns to May.
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