Matthews sets career high in goals with 62 after two-goal performance, Maple Leafs defeat Panthers 6-4

Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
26 days ago
With two weeks to go in the regular season, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers battled it out on the ice in Toronto for the third time this season and the first of two meetings in the next 16 days as both these teams get prepared for the playoffs, which could feature a rematch between the two Atlantic division rivals.

First period:

Before the puck dropped to start the game, the crowd inside Scotiabank Arena was electric, and there was a feeling that last night was going to be a good game between two good teams, along with a rowdy crowd. Things got off to a physical start almost immediately. Both teams play with a physical element, and Ryan Lomberg, who was in on the forecheck against Jake McCabe, decided to deliver a hit and was called for boarding just three minutes into the game. The Maple Leafs’ power play jumped on the ice but did not find the back of the net.
Although there was a lot of talent on the ice last night, shots were not easy to come by through the first half of the period, but when the goalies were tested, they were there with the answer.
With six minutes to go in the opening frame, the third line of Knies, Holmberg, and Robertson were in their zone trying to clear the puck. The puck worked its way to the point to Dmitry Kulikov and, with pressure from Nick Robertson, turned it over to Matthew Knies, who sprung Robertson on a breakaway. Once Robertson noticed he had open ice, he bolted through the neutral zone after receiving the puck from Knies, and the 22-year-old, one-on-one with Bobrovsky, showed off some filthy hands, going backhand to forehand in one quick motion, forcing the Panthers goalie to leave an opening for Robertson to score his 12th goal of the season.
Not even a minute later, the top line was back in the offensive zone, looking for another goal to double their lead. TJ Brodie, who entered the game with three assists in his previous three games, circled the net and found a wide-open Auston Matthews back door for his 61st goal of the season, which set a new career high for the centerman.
With Toronto protecting a two-goal lead in the back half of the first period, the next power play of the game was almost guaranteed to go to Florida, and it did. John Tavares was sent to the box for interference, and for the second time in the first 15 minutes, the Maple Leafs had to kill a penalty. I’m not sure what was said during practice or what they worked on, but Toronto’s penalty kill has looked much better over the past five games, and they continued that success last night.
After killing off the Tavares penalty, the penalty kill unit jumped back on the ice to kill off a roughing penalty committed by Matthew Knies after the rookie went after Niko Mikkola for his hit in the corner on Pontus Holmberg. Fortunately, Toronto killed it off and went 3-for-3 in the first period. Despite going perfect on the penalty kill in the first frame, it delivered some close calls, including this spectacular reach-back save from Ilya Samsonov on Sam Bennett with a little over three minutes to go.
Toronto entered the first intermission up 2-0, tied in shots with Florida 8-8.

Second period:

Part of the penalty carried over to the next period, and although they successfully killed it off, as mentioned above, Brandon Montour quickly fired a point shot as Knies returned to the ice that beat Samsonov cleanly, cutting into the Maple Leafs’ lead. Luckily, Toronto had an answer to that Montour goal almost immediately. The top line, who scored the Maple Leafs’ second goal, responded to Florida’s tally and scored the team’s third just 40 seconds later.
They got the puck in deep, and Matthews went to work to retrieve it. It became loose, and Domi fed it down low to Matthews, who quickly fired a hard pass to the front of the net to Bertuzzi, who redirected home his 19th goal of the season, restoring their two-goal lead.
With three goals in their back pocket and the penalty kill looking good, giving them some momentum, the fourth line delivered your dream fourth-line shift midway through the frame. David Kampf entered the zone and fired a shot on the net, with Ryan Reaves there for any possible rebound. The puck spat out behind the net, and Reaves was there to pounce on it after muscling a couple of Panthers players off of it. He gained possession and fed Kampf in front of the net, and after getting stopped on his first attempt, he worked the puck to his backhand and scored to give Toronto a 4-1 lead with his seventh of the season.
It was a solid first period for the home team. They played a physical period of hockey against a darn good Panthers team and didn’t give them much to work with. You pile that onto the fact that they outscored them 2-0 – it was hard to top that. Well, the second period delivered pretty much the same thing but treated the fans to a third goal to make it 5-1 Toronto with roughly six minutes to go in the middle frame.
The kid line, or the third line, forced Florida into a turnover at their blue line. Nick Robertson fed Pontus Holmberg, who circled the net looking for an option. As he made his way around the cage, he fired a pass to Matthew Knies in front of the net. Knies potted home his 13th of the season to give Toronto the commanding 5-1 lead.
Toronto entered the second intermission up 5-1, outshooting Florida 16-15.

Third period:

Although the scoreboard read 5-1 Toronto entering the third period, you had a sneaky feeling that if Florida scored one or two quick goals in the final period, it could be a crazy finish. A little over two minutes in, Vladimir Tarasenko scored his 22nd goal of the season to cut the deficit to three with almost an entire period left to be played. You felt a goal was coming from the road team, given their start. Although they didn’t pepper Toronto with shots, the zone time and puck possession were in their favour, which rewarded them with an early goal.
Toronto went nearly 10 minutes without allowing another goal, but the first-time 50-goal man, Sam Reinhart, finished off a pass from Tarasenko from behind the net to get his team within two goals with eight minutes to go.
Now, if you’re a Maple Leafs fan, that sneaky feeling is no longer sneaky. There’s a legit chance Florida could score two goals in eight minutes to overcome this once 5-1 lead. Fortunately, the Maple Leafs were able to hold them off from getting within one for almost seven minutes. But once Florida pulled the goalie for the extra attacker with a couple of minutes to go, Sam Bennett made things truly interesting with his 17th goal of the season, making it a 5-4 game with under two minutes left in regulation.
After countless times trying to exit their zone to seal the game with the empty net goal, Auston Matthews, who was sitting on 61 goals, launched the puck from his end of the ice into the vacant cage for his 62nd goal, giving his team the two-goal lead with 45 seconds left.
The third period made this win a lot harder than it needed to be. Nonetheless, the Maple Leafs held on for the 6-4 win with Matthews’ 62nd goal of the season, giving Toronto three straight wins, which puts them four points back of Florida with a game in hand and six points back of Boston with a game in hand.

Who stood out:

All in all, it was a solid Maple Leafs win. The third period probably didn’t play out quite how Toronto had hoped, but given Florida was down four, you knew a push was coming in the final 20 minutes. They did give up three consecutive goals, which made it interesting in the end, but the Maple Leafs bent but didn’t break.
The man who notched his 60th goal of the season over the weekend in Toronto’s second arena entered last night’s game ten goals shy of 70. Well, we know what he did in the 6-4 win. His first-period goal set a new career high with 61 goals, and his empty-net tally to wrap the game up gave him 62 goals, which is the third most in the salary cap era (Ovechkin, 65, 2007-08, McDavid, 64, 2022-23, and Matthews, 62, 2023-24). The 26-year-old goal-scoring machine also picked up an assist in the win last night on Tyler Bertuzzi’s 19th goal, capping off a three-point performance and putting him two points shy of his second 100-point season.
But it wasn’t just Matthews. His whole line looked great. According to Moneypuck.com, the three played 10:47 at five-on-five, outscored the Panthers 2-0, won the shot attempt battle 15-10, outshot them 6-3 and generated an xGF% of 88.0%.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Wednesday night when they close out their mini two-game homestand against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.
(Stats from hockey-reference.com)

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