Ovechkin Matthews split 32024

WASHINGTON -- Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin have other priorities with the Stanley Cup Playoffs approaching.

Still, their pursuits of goal-scoring history grabbed a lot of the spotlight in the 7-3 victory by Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs against Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at Capital One Arena on Wednesday.

Matthews scored two goals to increase his League-leading season total to 57 and had three assists to match his NHL career high of five points. The 26-year-old center moved within three goals of reaching 60 for the second time in three seasons and is 13 away from becoming the first player to score 70 since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny each scored 76 during the 1992-93 season.

“Obviously, we have zero answer for 34 tonight in their lineup,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said of Matthews.

Ovechkin also scored two goals to increase his career total to 845, moving him within 50 of breaking Wayne Gretzky’s NHL record of 894. The 38-year-old left wing has scored five goals in his past three games and 15 in his past 22 games to up his season total to 23.

Some wondered if Ovechkin was slowing down and would have to settle for second in goals behind Gretzky after scoring only eight goals in his first 43 games this season, but he’s showing he has a lot left in the tank in his 19th NHL season.

“He’s the greatest goal-scorer of all time,” Matthews said. “So, it's always fun to play against him still and still watch him get it done and the excitement and passion he gets when he scores goals. Obviously, we'd like to see him not score against us, but when you're that good, you're bound to get opportunities and he makes good on them most of the time.”

Ovechkin would similarly have preferred that Matthews didn’t score Wednesday, particularly with the Capitals (33-26-9) trailing the Detroit Red Wings by one point for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference and desperate for a win.

Otherwise, Ovechkin said he is rooting for Matthews in his chase of 70 goals. He’s on pace to finish the season with 68, which would be the most in the NHL since Ovechkin scored 65 in 2007-08.

“It’s great,” Ovechkin said. “I’m happy for him. Hope he gets it, maybe 70.”

Matthews appreciated the kind words, saying, “It means a lot, obviously.” But he was more concerned with the Maple Leafs (39-20-9) rebounding from a 4-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday, solidifying their hold on third in the Atlantic Division -- they increased their lead on the fourth-place Tampa Bay Lightning to seven points -- and sharpening their game for the playoffs.

“We’ve got more stuff to worry about in our locker room as far as trying to build our game towards the end of the season and stuff,” Matthews said. “I think the individual stuff, obviously you want to accomplish stuff. You want to push yourself to be as great as you can. That's what I try to do every night.”

Matthews had cooled off from scoring 52 goals in his first 55 games this season with a more-human three goals in 11 games before Wednesday, but as Ovechkin noted, “One game he can score four goals.” Moved to the top line with Matthews and Tyler Bertuzzi, Max Domi helped reignite Matthews’ scoring spree with four assists.

The first came on a centering pass to Matthews alone in front for a 1-0 Toronto lead 16 seconds into the game. After William Nylander made it 2-0 at 56 seconds of the second period, Ovechkin got the Capitals within 2-1 with his trademark one-timer from the left circle for a power-play goal at 9:57.

TOR@WSH: Ovechkin buries a one-timer from the cricle for a power-play goal

But Matthews struck again when his shot from the point skipped in past Charlie Lindgren to increase Toronto’s lead to 3-1 at 12:59. Matthews appeared to get a third goal -- and his seventh hat trick of the season -- when he put in the rebound of a Jake McCabe’s point shot with 3:18 remaining in the second. But that goal came off the board with a successful Capitals challenge for offside.

Matthews had to settle for assisting on McCabe deflection goal that increased the Maple Leafs lead to 4-2 with 25 seconds remaining in the second period, and two more assists in the third.

“Those guys were feeling it tonight,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Auston was feeling it. Max, obviously, was outstanding tonight as well.”

Ovechkin gave the Capitals some hope of a comeback when he scored on another one-timer from the left circle -- this time at even strength -- to trim the Maple Leafs lead to 4-3 at 6:42 of the third. Toronto pulled away after that, though.

“As soon as we get closer to them, they find a way to add to the lead,” said Ovechkin, who tied Joe Thornton for 13th in NHL history with 1,539 points. “It’s frustrating.”

It was still an impressive showing by Matthews and Ovechkin. Up to 356 goals in his eighth NHL season, Matthews has a lot of work to do to catch Ovechkin, but he’s within reach of Ovechkin’s total of 371 goals through his first eight seasons.

Maybe one day he will be chasing down Gretzky and Ovechkin, too.

“Anytime I've played against ‘Ovi’ in my career, he's pretty special,” Domi said. “You kind of look over and go, 'Wow, that's going to be the greatest goal-scorer of all time.' And then you look over and I'm like, 'Oh, well, Auston's right there now, too.' It's crazy to think that Alex can break Wayne's record, potentially, hopefully, and then Auston's going to be sniffing at that, too.

“It's really special for guys like us to be able to play on the same ice surface as those guys and have fun and enjoy the moment, because those are two generational talents and it's great to see them go head-to-head like that.”