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Matthews goal changes Maple Leafs' fortunes against Canadiens

Forward scores in overtime, ends Toronto's 14-game skid vs. Montreal

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / Staff Writer

MONTREAL -- Auston Matthews was getting tired of being asked the same question.

The Toronto Maple Leafs forward didn't need to come right out and say it. The exasperated look in his eyes told the story.

Prior to the game against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Saturday, he kept getting reminded of the Maple Leafs' 14-game losing streak (0-9-5) against their longtime rivals.

"We would like to change that," he said politely after the morning skate.

Ten hours later, he did exactly that.

Matthews scored past Canadiens goalie Carey Price 48 seconds into overtime to give Toronto a 4-3 victory, its first against Montreal since Jan. 18, 2014.

Video: TOR@MTL: Matthews goes short side for OT game-winner

Simply put, Matthews doesn't want to discuss the Maple Leafs' recent history. He'd rather make his own.

He's off to an outstanding start in that regard.

With Matthews coming off winning the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie last season and having helped the Maple Leafs make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2012-13, the popular question among fans calling in to Toronto radio shows all offseason was what he could do for an encore.

How's this for an answer?

Through five games this season, Matthews has eight points (five goals, three assists) and has scored at least one in each game. 

And he's done it in style.

Matthews, who turned 20 on Sept. 17, has scored two overtime goals in six days. On Monday at Air Canada Centre, scored past Chicago Blackhawks goalie Anton Forsberg to complete the Maple Leafs' 4-3 comeback victory.

Video: CHI@TOR: Matthews snipes top-shelf OT game-winner

Two weeks into the season, Matthews is showing he has a flair for the dramatic, and that has not been lost on Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

"Good players like that, they want to be in those moments," Babcock said. "They're guys who have been doing it their whole lives. They just believe they're going to get it done at that time.

"It's fortunate for us."

It had been 1,365 days since the Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens. Babcock was coaching the Detroit Red Wings then. Canadiens coach Claude Julien was coaching the Boston Bruins at the time.

Four current Maple Leafs - forwards James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Nazem Kadri, and defenseman Jake Gardiner -- played in that 5-3 win, with van Riemsdyk scoring the winning goal. 

That season, Matthews was part of USA Hockey's National Team Development Program and played junior hockey in the United States Hockey League. A Canadiens-Maple Leafs game in the middle of January was the furthest thing from his mind.

Since then, he has become a force in the NHL, the type of player who can decide games with the flicks of his wrists. It was that way against the Blackhawks on Monday. And it was that way again on Saturday in Montreal.

"It's always a hostile environment when we come in here and it's obviously a great atmosphere," Matthews said. "To come out with two points, it's what we came here to do. We're going to take it and move on here."

As usual, Matthews' comments were understated. His play, on the other hand, was not.

Midway through the first period, Matthews scored the type of highlight-reel goal he is becoming known for. After eluding Canadiens defenseman Jordie Benn in the neutral zone, he shot the puck through the legs of defenseman Brandon Davidson and past an off-balance Price, his first of two goals in the game.

"I got a great view of that one," Maple Leafs forward Patrick Marleau said. "I was skating right beside him. The way he pulls the puck in and shoots it, through D-men's legs and stuff like that, it's hard for goalies to pick it up."

Marleau, 38, is in his 20th NHL season. He was asked if he's ever played with someone who is such a difference maker at such a young age.

"That's a hard question," Marleau said. "But when I think about it, not really."

In the end, Matthews could not have received a better endorsement.

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