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Mar 31, 2024 8:01 pm

Auston Matthews, Leafs face Panthers in Atlantic showdown

Auston Matthews

Auston Matthews will return home as a two-time 60-goal scorer when the Toronto Maple Leafs play host to the Florida Panthers on Monday night.

Matthews reached that plateau for the second time Saturday night when the visiting Maple Leafs defeated the Buffalo Sabres 3-0. A large contingent of Leafs fans made the drive to nearby Buffalo.

“If you’re not going to get it at home, this is probably second best,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I loved the way the fans acknowledged it, too.”

Matthews is the only active NHL player with two 60-goal seasons. He is also the only American-born player and the ninth in league history to achieve the feat.

“It’s hard to think about stuff like that, honestly,” Matthews said. “It’s special.”

Almost overlooked was the superb play of Toronto goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who made 34 saves to earn his third shutout of the season and the 13th of his career.

The Maple Leafs (42-22-9, 93 points) are third in the Atlantic Division, six points behind the second-place Panthers (47-22-5, 99 points). The Panthers are two points behind the first-place Boston Bruins.

The Panthers, who have had recent struggles, defeated the visiting Detroit Red Wings 3-2 in a shootout on Saturday.

“I think we needed it,” Florida coach Paul Maurice. “I think we’ve needed the frustration we’ve been seeing, the frustration and adversity. I think we’ve created our own problems to start. We had a whole bunch of problems, just some strange things happened — some health, we had a bunch of guys get sick we didn’t say much about. Then we had the disparity in the penalty kill and power play adversity. That’ll frustrate you, too.

“But I think we got better through it tonight. That’s a players’ win for me because the coach didn’t have much to say today. I like the way they ran the bench. I like the way they came together.”

Aleksander Barkov scored twice in the third period to secure his ninth 20-goal season, three more than any other player in franchise history. Barkov (21 goals, 50 assists) has five 70-point seasons, two more than any other player in Panthers history.

“We didn’t like our first period,” said Barkov, who set a team record with his 32nd multi-goal game. “We had some chances, but I don’t think that was our game. We didn’t play the right way. After the first period, we started playing a lot harder. In the second and third, that looked a lot more like us.”

Matthews also scored 60 goals in the 2021-22 season.

“It means a lot, obviously,” he said. “It’s as much of a team accomplishment in my opinion as an individual one. It’s always a fun atmosphere here with all the blue and white in the stands, so it’s definitely pretty cool.”

Matthews’s goal gave Toronto a 3-0 lead, and Samsonov was the difference with several key saves.

“Sammy was fantastic,” Toronto captain John Tavares said. “No doubt he was our best player. We defended hard and we competed. Obviously, it wasn’t our best game. We didn’t carry the play as much as we wanted. … But he led the way in how he competed and shut them down when they created some opportunities.”

Tavares, playing in his 1,100th NHL game, scored the first goal.

–Field Level Media

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