TOR@BUF: Matthews fires it in for 60th goal

BUFFALO -- Auston Matthews reached 60 goals for the second time in three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs when he scored against the Buffalo Sabres in a 3-0 win at KeyBank Center on Saturday.

Matthews scored on a scramble in front at 14:23 of the third period to give the Maple Leafs a 3-0 lead.

"It means a lot obviously," Matthews 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."

Throughout the game, many in the crowd, which included Maple Leafs fans, were chanting, "We want 60," which Matthews said was impossible not to hear.

"I've heard it the last couple games, but I just tried to stay focused and just go out there and play my game," Matthews said. "I feel like the last couple games, I had plenty of really good chances, not all of them have gone in but I just stayed with it, keep shooting it and obviously I was fortunate for that one to land at my feet there and bang it home."

The 26-year-old forward reached the mark in 72 games, one fewer than in 2021-22, when he finished with 60 goals in 73 games. He is the only United States-born player in NHL history to score 60 goals. The goal was his 45th even-strength goal, breaking the previous Maple Leafs record of 44 that Matthews set in 2021-22.

"You score 60 goals, it's going to be very meaningful," Toronto captain John Tavares said. "He's shown for a long time that he scores at all situations, in all different ways. He's done it twice now. It's pretty incredible so just a really, really special player."

Matthews is the ninth player in NHL history to have multiple 60-goal seasons but the only active NHL player to do so. Alex Ovechkin (65 goals in 2007-08), Connor McDavid (64 in 2022-23), David Pastrnak (61 in 2022-23) and Steven Stamkos (60 in 2011-12) are the other active players who have scored 60 in a season.

"Not every day we see this, not every year," Maple Leafs goalie Ilya Samsonov said. "It's huge. I'm just waiting [until] he's got 70 goals. This is my small dream for him. I want to see 70 goals by Auston this year. He surprises us every year. In the last year, we see how he's hard to play in the D-zone. This year, he's playing O-zone really hard, in the D-zone really good and scoring the goals again. It's fun to watch him every day."

Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky (five each) have the most 60-goal seasons in League history.

Buffalo Sabres coach Don Granato coached Matthews when he was with the United States National Team Development Program Under-18 team in 2014-15 and with the Under-17 team in 2013-14. He said even then, it was clear Matthews had the ability to be an elite goal scorer at the NHL level.

"You absolutely saw the potential of that, and he's had the drive and credit that and his appetite," Granato said on March 6. "You saw this at the age of 15, his Day One, you get all the those kids into the program and they're the best kids across the country and when you get them head to head, you see who rises and he rose immediately in the first days and weeks to separate himself at that point, and you knew he was a special player moving forward. Obviously his biggest attribute is to score goals and it was evident then so I'm not very surprised at what he's able to do. He was very impressive at that age."

Matthews leads the NHL in goals this season, eight more than Zach Hyman of the Edmonton Oilers and nine ahead of Sam Reinhart of the Florida Panthers, putting him on track to win his third Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy (2020-21, 2021-22).

The Maple Leafs (42-22-9) are six points behind the Panthers for second in the Atlantic Division and four ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, in large part due to Matthews' offense.

"He's had an incredible season, scored in different ways," Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I'm happy for him to get that accomplishment again here this season. He does so much for our team. It's more than just the goals but for him to get that is great. If you're not going to get it at home, this is probably second-best. It was great. I loved the way the fans acknowledged it too."

Since being selected by Toronto with the No. 1 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, Matthews leads the NHL with 359 goals, 36 more than Ovechkin and Leon Draisaitl, who are tied for second (323 goals). He is also six goals behind Dave Keon (365) for third in Maple Leafs history and 61 behind Mats Sundin for first.

No other active player has scored 60 goals or more in two seasons.

"Honestly, it's special, obviously," Matthews said. "I try to pride myself on playing a full 200-foot game. I know I can score. I just try to compete every night. I've been fortunate to play with some really great players and have the support of the team behind us so I just try to go out every day and compete.

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