TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews looked a little sheepish after scoring his 50th goal into an empty net last month. How the Maple Leafs sniper bagged No. 60 was a lot more like it.
Matthews scored twice, the second on one of his patented snapshots, to become just the third player in the NHL’s salary cap era to register 60 goals in a season as Toronto defeated the Detroit Red Wings 3-0 on Tuesday night.
After being thwarted by Red Wings netminder Alex Nedeljkovic on a couple good looks in the first period, Matthews scored his 59th from in tight with just over four minutes left in the second to set the stage for his 60th in the third.
The 24-year-old kept a puck in at the offensive blue line on a power play and moved into the slot before ripping a puck past Nedeljkovic’s glove to send the crowd at Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.
“It was pretty special,” Matthews said. “Just the reception from my teammates, the crowd, I mean, everything. It just kind of sends chills down your bones.”
Fans broke into deafening chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” for a superstar they believe is more than deserving of his first Hart Trophy as league MVP.
“Just the way he goes about it, the way he does it, the consistency, some of the things he’s done … you continue to shake your head,” said captain John Tavares, who had the other Toronto goal.
Matthews, who had gone five games without scoring, joined Steven Stamkos in 2011-12 and Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 as the only players to reach 60 goals since the mid-1990s.
“Pretty unreal,” Tavares added. “A tremendous amount of love from the fans and a great way to do it.”
Matthews has also had a stretch of 51 goals in 50 games.
“It’s unique, it’s rare,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I’m just really happy for him. He works extremely hard.”
Jack Campbell made 20 saves to register his fifth shutout of the season for Toronto (53-21-7), which clinched home ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and also set a franchise record with its 30th home victory of the season. William Nylander added two assists.
The Leafs are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division and will open the postseason next week at Scotiabank Arena against either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning.
“We’re working towards something bigger,” Matthews said. “Definitely a moment for us to enjoy and be happy about. But the job’s not done, the work’s not finished.”
Nedeljkovic stopped 33 shots for Detroit (31-40-10), including those big early saves on Matthews.
“Ned played great,” Wings forward Sam Gagner said. “If you’re scoring 60, you’re finding ways to get it done no matter who you’re matched up against. He’s a really special player.”
Matthews, who suited up for his third straight game after missing three in a row with an undisclosed injury, solved Nedeljkovic with 4:12 left in the second on a backhand.
And after Tavares doubled the Leafs’ lead at 4:03 of the third with his 27th, Matthews buried No. 60 at 5:49 on a play that was close at the blue line.
Some fans threw hats on the ice in honor of the accomplishment, while teammates gave him an ovation on the bench.
“It means a lot,” Matthews said. “Just how tight-knit we are and this locker room, it’s like a family in there and a brotherhood.
“That’s what it’s all about.”
NOTES: Toronto defenseman Jake Muzzin, who played for just the 46th time in 2021-22, returned to the lineup after sitting out the last six games with an undisclosed injury. … Alexander Kerfoot got the call on the left side of the Leafs’ top line with Matthews and Mitch Marner as Michael Bunting (lower-body injury) missed his second consecutive contest. … Marner needs three points in the regular-season finale Friday against Boston to become the fourth player in franchise history to reach the century mark, joining Matthews, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour.
Red Wings: At New Jersey on Friday night.
Maple Leafs: Host the Boston Bruins on Friday night.
More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports