Matthews gets his 60th, Samsonov posts a shutout as the Maple Leafs blank the Sabres 3-0

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Joseph Zita
18 days ago
After being called out by their head coach following their loss to the Devils on Tuesday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs responded well against the Capitals, completing the season series sweep, before heading out on the road down to Buffalo to take on the Sabres for the fourth and final time this season.

First period:

Before the puck dropped to begin the final meeting this season between the two rivals, the camera panned to the crowd for the national anthems, and it was evident that KeyBank Center was, without a doubt, 75% + filled with blue jerseys, cheering for the Leafs.
Once the puck dropped, the pace of play between the two teams was fast. Within the first five minutes of the opening period, both clubs traded a couple of chances, but both goalies were up to the early task. However, one of the chances within the first quarter of the period found the back of the net.
In his third consecutive game in the lineup, Conor Timmins dropped the puck for William Nylander in their zone. He skated coast-to-coast with the puck, around players in the neutral zone, and once he crossed the offensive blue line, fed John Tavares in the high slot. The captain collected the puck, walked in a bit, and fired his 24th goal of the season past Luukkonen for the early 1-0 lead.
Not even two minutes after breaking the scoreless tie, Connor Dewar was sent to the penalty box for an offensive zone holding penalty, which sent the Sabres to their first man advantage just 6:33 into the first period. Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs limited Buffalo’s chances despite having the extra man on the ice.
After successfully killing Dewar’s minor penalty, the speedy winger returned to the box for a delay of game penalty. As Dewar exited the box and made his way to the Maple Leafs’ net, where the Sabres were pushing for a goal, the puck became loose, and he launched the puck into the netting, sending the home team back to the man advantage.
Similarly to the first penalty kill, Toronto didn’t give Buffalo much to work with and limited them to just one shot on Samsonov. Bobby McMann almost generated a scoring chance off the rush, but a neat stick check by Rasmus Dahlin eliminated any possible opportunity for the 27-year-old.
The Maple Leafs eventually went to their first power play of the game when Connor Clifton was whistled for interference on Pontus Holmberg. Although they didn’t double their lead on the man advantage, they created a few looks, including a tremendous save from Luukkonen on Auston Matthews, who was searching for his 60th goal of the season.
Toronto entered the first intermission up 1-0 and outshot 10-8.

Second period:

Goals at the start of periods have been a theme for this team lately. After John Tavares scored less than five minutes into the first period, the third line of the Maple Leafs got on the board to begin the middle frame even earlier than the captain’s tally.
Despite being hemmed in their zone for a bit, including a couple of turnovers, the youngest line on Toronto finally broke out of their zone in transition and was able to double their lead thanks to a shot from Nick Robertson, who ripped his 11th of the season past Luukkonen.
With this line, specifically with Robertson and sometimes Knies, there will be the good and the bad that comes with them while they’re on the ice, and the goal to go up by two was an example of that.
After Robertson’s 11th tally of the season, the Maple Leafs came close to going up three, but Luukkonen arguably pulled off a save-of-the-year candidate on Domi after a pretty passing play from the top line.
Sprinkled in all of this – the Robertson goal and the Domi scoring chance – the Maple Leafs received another power play after rookie Zach Benson was sent to the penalty box for tripping Nylander in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, after going 0-for-1 in the first period, Toronto went 0-for-2 after not finding the back of the net.
That would be the only opportunity for the Maple Leafs in the middle period on the man advantage because the next two power plays went to Buffalo. Auston Matthews took his third minor penalty of the season – which is ridiculous to say – and Jake McCabe took their second delay of game penalty after launching the puck into the crowd on his backhand.
Despite the parade to the penalty box from Toronto last night, their penalty kill remained perfect (4-for-4) through 40 minutes, and like the first two, they didn’t give up much on the final two to close out the second period, other than one great look from JJ Peterka in the slot.
It was a low-event period of hockey for both sides. Toronto and Buffalo combined for just 14 shots (8-6 Buffalo), and despite three combined power plays, Nick Robertson’s 11th goal 2:34 into the period was the only shot that beat a goalie.
Toronto entered the second intermission up 2-0 and outshot 18-14.

Third period:

It had been a weird game up to this point. Toronto entered the third and final period up by two goals, but it wasn’t like they were overly dominant in the game. Buffalo had a couple of great looks, but Ilya Samsonov was there with every answer to every shot that came his way and continued that throughout the end of regulation.
It was a game filled with special teams, and there wasn’t as much five-on-five time on the ice for either head coach’s liking. Through 40 minutes, Buffalo had four power plays, Toronto had two, and the parade to the penalty box continued when both teams had their fifth and third man advantages of the game less than 10 minutes into the final frame.
Simon Benoit was whistled for a questionable interference penalty, but the Maple Leafs killed it off, improving to 5-for-5 on the night. Two seconds after Benoit returned to the ice, play stopped once the Sabres touched the puck because Jeff Skinner was sent off for high-sticking TJ Brodie, giving the Maple Leafs their third power play and a chance to take a 3-0 lead right before the midway point of the period.
Unfortunately, they looked disconnected and couldn’t get anything going. Buffalo had a few great looks short-handed, but luckily for Toronto, Ilya Samsonov was standing on his head, making spectacular saves for his team.
Although neither team was successful with their power plays, Buffalo kept their foot on the gas, desperately looking for a goal to cut Toronto’s lead in half. There were a combined 32 shots from both teams through 40 minutes, and given their two-goal deficit, the Sabres threw everything they could on the net, almost reaching 20 shots in the final period.
As the period continued, the urgency for Auston Matthews to score was getting higher and higher. As mentioned in the pregame article, his month of March hasn’t been as productive goal-scoring-wise compared to other months, and his once 74-goal pace a month ago has dropped to 67 entering last night’s game.
Well, roughly four and a half minutes over the midway point of the third frame, the inevitable happened. After getting robbed by Luukkonen seconds prior while in alone, Matthews banged home the loose puck in front of the net after a point shot from Conor Timmins for his 60th goal of the season.
I know I said at the beginning of the article the crowd was 75% + Maple Leafs fans, and you could hear them at times throughout the night with some of their chants. But the moment Matthews put number 60 into the Sabres’ net, you would’ve thought they were playing in Toronto.
Thousands of fans jumped out of their seats for Auston’s historic tally. After the camera caught him celebrating with his teammates, it panned to the crowd behind the benches where a row of Maple Leafs fans wore a letter on their shirt, which spelt out Matthews, and even had balloons for his 60th goal of the season. Leafs Nation truthfully travels well.
The scoreboard now read 3-0 for the road team, and with roughly five minutes left and Ilya Samsonov standing on his head, the Maple Leafs wrapped this game up to improve to 42-22-9 on the season.
However, the game dragged on longer than many expected due to a line scrum? It wasn’t a line brawl, but everyone on the ice, minus the goalies, was engaged with someone, wrestling each other due to a hit from behind on TJ Brodie delivered by Rasmus Dahlin.
After several minutes of trying to sort out the mess on the ice, the referees announced everyone in the scrums on the ice was handed 10-minute misconducts. If you stopped watching before things got a little out of hand, you must’ve missed Auston Matthews being one of the players on the ice.
Matthews isn’t known for racking up the penalty minutes, let alone 10-minute misconducts. He entered yesterday’s game with four penalty minutes, and after his two-minute minor for hooking to go along with this misconduct, his penalty minutes on the season have now jumped to 16, the third most in a season in his career.

Who stood out:

The score wouldn’t be what it was if it wasn’t for Ilya Samsonov. From start to finish, he was on his game and was one of the main reasons Buffalo didn’t score a single goal. It was a night to forget for Samsonov and Toronto last time they visited Buffalo, losing 9-3 in mid-December. However, last night’s 3-0 victory was a much better road stop for the Maple Leafs.
I know I already briefly talked about Matthews and his 60th goal of the season, but it cannot be overlooked how crazy this is. This is the second time he has hit this milestone in a season – the first one in 2021-22 – and with last night’s third-period goal, the 26-year-old became just the ninth player in NHL history to have multi-60-goal seasons, joining a list of some pretty elite names.
With just nine games left, Matthews needs ten goals to become the first 70-goal scorer in the NHL since the 1992-93 season when Alex Mogilny and Teemu Selanne each scored 76. Although ten goals in nine games is quite a challenge, if a player in the league can do that, it’s Mr. Auston Matthews. If he can’t reach 70 before the end of the season, the number he should at least be looking to get to is 66. Alex Ovechkin holds the most goals in the salary cap era with 65 (2007-08), and if Matthews can surpass that, it’d be impressive.
David Pastrnak (61) and Connor McDavid (64) are the only two other players to have scored 60 or more goals in a season in the salary cap era, which came last season.
I can’t forget about the penalty kill. It has been criticized a ton this season, rightfully so. But after going 6-for-6 last night and 11-for-11 in their past 11 periods, they deserve some love. The power play, however, yeah, that needs some work.
You can catch the Toronto Maple Leafs’ next game on Monday night when they return home to take on the Florida Panthers for the first of two final meetings this season. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm ET/4:00 pm PT.

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