TORONTO -- Auston Matthews wants to make one thing clear: despite growing up in Scottsdale, Arizona, he has indeed played hockey outside before taking part in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic.
Maybe not as much as some of his teammates who grew up in colder climates, but living for two years in Ann Arbour, Michigan while he played on the U.S. National Under-17 and 18 teams afforded Matthews plenty of opportunities to skate outside.
He's just never played on an outdoor stage quite as large as the one at Exhibition Stadium on Sunday, when he scored two goals, including the overtime winner, to help the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 5-4 win against the Detroit Red Wings in front of 40,148.
"It was definitely one of the best moments in hockey I've ever experienced for myself, so it's pretty special," Matthews said. "We played a real solid game tonight and when it's an [outdoor] Classic game, it's a little bigger setting, a lot more fans and it's kind of that national stage, so for us to come out and get that win, it was a pretty exciting game.
"I think people were on the edge of their seats in the third period and overtime, so it was just really fun to kind of experience this whole thing."
The night ended well, but it did not get off to a great start for Matthews. He was partly responsible for forward Anthony Mantha's goal that gave Detroit a 1-0 lead at 5:33 of the second period. After losing a puck battle to forward Henrik Zetterberg at the Maple Leafs blue line, Matthews inadvertently ended up screening goaltender Frederik Andersen while trying to block Mantha's shot. But when Toronto erupted for four goals in the third period, capped by Matthews' first of the game at 12:05 to make it 4-1, he figured he helped put the game out of reach.
But when Detroit responded with three goals in the final 6:06, including Mantha's tying goal with 1.1 seconds remaining, it was Matthews' line that was on the ice for the tying goal. Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, always striving to keep his players honest, made sure he pointed out the whole story after the game while still giving credit to Matthews for his overtime heroics.
"[Matthews] played head to head with [Zetterberg's] line," Babcock said. "[Zetterberg] had three points, Mantha had three points. They were good too, so let's not get carried away here. Auston and his linemates were on the ice at the end when Detroit had a board across our blue line and we couldn't quite get it across. We got a lesson here tonight, but we were still able to win the game for our fans."
But as great players seem to do on the biggest stages, Matthews delivered at 3:40 of overtime when the game was on the line, scoring his second of the game and 20th goal, tying Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter for the second-most in the League this season.
"He's a superstar-caliber player and he rises to the challenge on the big stage," said Connor Brown, who had a goal and two assists on Matthews' line. "He certainly did that tonight and he just continues to roll right now."
After starting his NHL career with four goals in his first game and six goals over his first six games, Matthews went 13 without scoring. But that drought seems like ancient history; since breaking out of the slump, the 19-year-old has scored in 12 of his past 17 games and has 14 goals during that stretch.
"It's cool to see him score a couple of goals, and a very, very big goal for us to get the two points," Andersen said. "It's cool to see him do so well because he's an unbelievable kid and a great player on the ice, so it's very cool to see him step up and get the game-winner tonight too."