Auston Matthews reached 40 goals for the second straight season and third time in five years on Thursday as the Maple Leafs beat the Canadiens 5-2 at Scotiabank Arena.
Only one player in franchise history has done it in fewer games than Matthews has in 49 during the 2021 season. Frank Mahvolich accomplished the feat in 48 in 1960-61.
Matthews, who holds a nine-goal advantage over Connor McDavid of Edmonton for the NHL lead, scored on a sharp wrist shot off a pass from Mitch Marner.
He has 19 goals in his last 19 games and has seven and six assists against Montreal in nine games during the regular season.
“It means a lot,” Matthews said after the game. “I play with some really, really special players. I just feel really fortunate. It’s a team sport. There’s a lot that goes into it.”
Matthew has six goals over the last five games. He had 40 as a rookie in 2016-17 and a career-high 47 last year. He has a chance to add to his total when the teams meet for the last time on Saturday, also at Scotiabank Arena.
“It’s so great to see him get rewarded offensively because he puts a lot of pressure on himself, or at least knows he has great responsibility to produce for our team offensively, and he delivers on it,” Sheldon Keefe, the Toronto coach, said. “It’s nice to see him get that accomplishment tonight. He deserves it because of how much work he put in, first of all, in the offseason to prepare for this.
“He has come in, I think, on a mission to really make a statement in all areas of his game. He’s put in such great work defensively and away from the puck that you want to see him reach the goals that he has for himself. They’re lofty, but he keeps setting the bar even higher.”
The Maple Leafs got four goals in the first period to chase Montreal’s rookie goalie Cayden Primeau. They got a sharp backhand by Alex Galchenyuk only 16 seconds after the opening puck drop, and added goals on their third, eighth and 15th shots. Primeau, who was making only his fifth start, was replaced by Jake Allen to start the second period.
The loss kept the Canadiens from claiming the fourth and final playoff position in the NHL’s all-North Canadian Division. Toronto, Edmonton and Winnipeg have already clinched postseason berths.
John Tavares, Pierre Engvall and Mitch Marner also scored for the Maple Leafs, and the aged Joe Thornton had an assist to extend his points streak to seven games.
Earlier in the day, Thornton also spoke highly of Matthews.
“What he is doing right now, what he is on pace for, doesn’t come along very often,” Thornton said. “What he is doing is exceptional. He has always had it in him, but it is like he has turned a switch on. Every time he plays he expects to score.”
At 41 years 307 days, Thornton became only the fourth player in league history to record a seven-game point streak at 41 or over. The others were Teemu Selanne, who had a nine-game streak at 41 years 169 days; Igor Larianov, who went eight games at age 42 years 86 days, and Jaromir Jagr, who had a seven-game streak at age 41 and 309 days.
It is Thornton’s first seven-game points streak since 2015-16, when he did it while playing for San Jose on four separate occasions.
“He is a legend, there is not much more to say,” Jack Campbell, the Maple Leafs goalie said of Thornton. “Everyone wants to battle and win for him.”
Campbell made 19 saves while improving his record to 16-2-2. He is the first goalie in team history to win 16 of his first 20 starts in a season.
“It speaks volumes of how well our team’s playing,” Campbell said. “I didn’t really have a whole lot of action tonight, but the boys just carried the play and stuck to the game plan. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of this team.”
Campbell has flourished in replace of Frederik Anderson, who has been out since March 19 with a lower-body injury.
The 31-year-old saw his first action since then on Thursday while playing half the game in a rehab start for the AHL Marlies. He stopped 12 of 14 shots in 30 minutes in a 5-3 loss to the Manitoba Moose.
“He was great,” Marlies coach Greg Moore said. “He was really happy to get into a game. We couldn’t have asked for anything more from him.”
Keefe said it was too soon to say if or when Andersen would return, and what role he would play. He was 13-8-2 with a subpar .897 save percentage before his injury.
Allen, who has received the lion’s share of work in the Canadiens’ net in the absence of the injured Carey Price, stopped all but one of the 19 shots he faced in relief or Primeau.
Price has missed 10 games since suffering a concussion against Edmonton on April 19 and is yet to return to normal activity. Montreal hopes to have him back after it seizes the final playoff position in the North Division.
Vancouver and Calgary are the other teams vying for it, but both are on life support at this point.
Rookie Cole Caufield scored for Montreal with 6:30 left in the second period. It was the 21-year-old’s third goal in six games since being called up from the AHL. Artturi Lehkonen made it 4-2 on a backhand early in the third period. After that, Matthews put the finishing touch on the game.
“He is incredible,” Tavares, the Maple Leafs captain, said. “He makes it look so easy. It’s unreal to watch. At this level and this league, it’s extremely hard to score so to do it as often as he does, as consistent as he is, as dominant as he is, it’s extremely impressive.”