Chalk up yet another milestone for Auston Matthews.
The Maple Leafs centre became only the third player in club history to reach 100 points in a season in Thursday’s 7-3 rout of Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals at Scotiabank Arena.
Michael Bunting, William Nylander and Ilya Mikheyev had two goals apiece and John Tavares had four assists in a game where tempers flared and punches were thrown.
Matthews had two assists – his 100th and 101st points of the 2021-2022 campaign – to join Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour in Toronto’s 100-point fraternity. He is the first Maple Leaf to accomplish the feat since Gilmour in 1993-94. Both Gilmour and Sittler did it twice.
“It is unbelievable for him to hit 100,” Bunting said. “We are all really happy for him.”
Matthews, 24, was awarded the secondary assist on a score by Bunting that put Toronto ahead 1-0 less than five minutes after the opening faceoff. Mitch Marner was credited with the primary helper on Bunting’s first goal in 17 games and the 21st of his rookie season.
“It felt good to get one in there,” said Bunting, who played in his 100th career NHL game. “I was dry there for a little bit. Anybody who says he isn’t thinking about it is probably lying.”
Matthews registered an assist on a goal by Mikheyev later that increased the Maple Leafs’ lead to 5-1 in a wild second period. Toronto scored four times – including twice in a span of 18 seconds – and the Capitals fired in two.
Matthews entered the contest with 58 goals and 99 points and had scored 51 times in the preceding 51 contests. Earlier, he had already become the first Maple Leaf to net 50 goals in a season since Dave Andreychuk during the 1993-1994 campaign.
“It has just been fun to watch, and fun to watch how our team has embraced it,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said earlier this week of Matthews’s lengthy hot streak. “He got 50, which is a great accomplishment, and then we went on the road for a week or so and came back and he was sitting at 56.
“Then he gets his 50th goal in 50 games, and that’s great, and 20 seconds later, he shoots another in the net. He is finding other levels to raise the bar for himself.”
After being held off the score sheet for the first time since March 2 in a loss to Buffalo on Tuesday, Matthews joined Calgary forward Johnny Gaudreau as the second American to record 100 points this year.
If he scores two more times, Matthews will become the first U.S.-born player to ever have 60 goals in a season. Ovechkin had 65 in 2007-08.
The young sharpshooter and the greatest goal-scorer of the era have met in the regular season a dozen times, with Ovechkin holding a slight statistical advantage. The Great 8 has eight goals and eight assists in those games, while Matthews has five goals and assists on eight others.
“It is pretty fun,” Matthews said earlier in the day of the matchup with Ovechkin. “It is extremely impressive what he has been able to do. Guys like him, Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane continue to get it done.
“As more and more younger guys come in, they still produce at an incredible rate. What he has been able to do this season is incredible.”
Ovechkin entered the contest fourth in the league in goals behind Matthews, Leon Draisaitl of Edmonton and Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers. He is closing in on his ninth campaign with 50 or more.
“It seems like it is automatic for him,” Matthews said. “What he has been able to do year after year is a testament to him and his ability.”
Washington came in with four straight victories and the best winning percentage of any team in the league on the road but turned in a stinker in its first appearance in Toronto in two and a half years.
After Bunting scored early on, Nylander let loose with a hard slap shot that whizzed by goalie Ilya Samsonov with 6:15 left in the first period.
Shortly after that, Tom Wilson, the Capitals’ gritty forward, was called for goalie interference after a collision that ripped Jack Campbell’s helmet off.
“I just reached for the puck and he hit me,” Campbell said. “It was just a hockey play. No harm done.”
Said Keefe, “I didn’t like it.”
With only seconds left before the first intermission, Timothy Liljegren was whistled for holding Wilson and throwing him hard to the ice.
Defenceman John Carlson got Washington within 2-1 on a rush just past the midway point of the second. Only 11 seconds later, Ilya Lyubushkin hammered a one-timer past Samsonov to restore the lead to two at 3-1.
It was the first goal for Lyubushkin in 23 games since he came to Toronto in a trade with Arizona, and only the second of his career in 203 games.
Nylander then netted a wrist shot 18 seconds later to officially make it a laugher. Mikheyev and Bunting each scored as the Maple Leafs went up 6-1 before Wilson answered for an overwhelmed Washington with 18 seconds left in the period.
Mikheyev closed out the scoring for Toronto with his second goal of the night 1:27 into the final period. After that, Nic Dowd had a late goal for Washington.
Campbell picked up the win with 22 saves, as the second-placed Leafs remain four points clear of third-place Tampa Bay in the Atlantic Division. Boston lost, however, and fell seven points behind Toronto in the standings.
The Maple Leafs were much the better side from start to finish, playing faster and harder and frustrating the Capitals. Toronto won the only previous meeting between them, 5-3 in Washington on Feb. 28. They meet again, also in Washington, on April 24.
The game was so one-sided that it turned ugly as it wore on.
At various times, T.J. Oshie was called for roughing on Liljegren, the Capitals’ Garnett Hathaway was penalized for roughing Mark Giordano, and Kyle Clifford and Wilson squared off in a lengthy fight. Both landed numerous haymakers.
“I thought that was great,” Matthews said. “Kyle steps up and is not afraid of anybody.”
Later, Simmonds and Wilson exchanged unpleasantries in a scrum along the boards.
On top of that, Ovechkin delivered a punishing hit to Colin Blackwell and the Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly decked Johan Larsson.
It was a night where fans were keen to watch Matthews and Ovechkin, but as it turned out, there was so much more to see.