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Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Nicholas Robertson (89), right, celebrates his goal with defenseman Mark Giordano (55) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, March 30, 2024, in Buffalo, N.Y.Jeffrey T. Barnes/The Associated Press

Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 60th goal, Ilya Samsonov stopped 34 shots and Toronto beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-0 on Saturday night in front of a distinctly raucous Maple Leafs-backed road crowd.

Captain John Tavares scored the opening goal in his 1,100th NHL game, and Nicholas Robertson also scored in helping the Maple Leafs maintain their hold on third place in the Atlantic Division.

Matthews became the league’s first two-time 60-goal scorer in 30 years, scoring with 5:37 left to cap the scoring. With chants of “MVP! MVP!” raining from the stands, Matthews matched the franchise record he set when he led the NHL two seasons ago.

The 26-year-old from Arizona joins a group of eight NHL players to have multiple 60-goal seasons, and is the first since Pavel Bure had back-to-back 60-goal campaigns with the Vancouver Canucks in 1992-93 and 1993-94.

Buffalo’s Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen had 19 saves in his first outing since allowing four goals on nine shots in a 6-2 loss to Ottawa on Wednesday night.

A night after rallying from a 2-0 deficit in a 5-2 win over New Jersey, the Sabres continued their trend of inconsistent outings that has them slipping out of contention and in jeopardy of extending the team’s NHL-record playoff drought to a 13th consecutive season.

Samsonov posted his third shutout of the season and 13th of his career, which he punctuated with several key stops midway through third period.

First, he got his left pad out to stop Dylan Cozens on a short-handed breakaway attempt with 10:28 remaining. Some 20 seconds later, he lunged to stop Jeff Skinner on a breakaway and, while lying face down in his crease, Samsonov got his glove up to get a piece of Cozens’ attempt to convert the rebound, leading to Leafs fans chanting “Sammy!”

It as a much better outing since Samsonov’s last start in Buffalo, when he questioned his mental state in being yanked after allowing five goals on 19 shots in the Sabres eventual 9-3 win on Dec. 21. “I need to figure out everything in my head,” a dejected Samsonov said following the game.

The 27-year-old has rediscovered his game. Since Jan. 21, he’s gone 15-3-1 and allowed a combined 46 goals.

In what’s become a familiar scene in Buffalo, the outing this resembled more of a Toronto home game, with Maple Leafs fans taking advantage of a four-day Easter long weekend. The buzz in the building had very familiar blue-and-white electric hue to it, given the large number of Maple Leafs fans who made the 90-minute cross-border drive west from Toronto. Following a rousing version of “O, Canada,” a chorus of “Go Leafs, Go!” chants went up through the building.

Tavares gave the Maple Leafs faithful plenty more to cheer about by scoring 4:58 into the game, and with the banner of his retired pro lacrosse-playing uncle John Tavares hanging in the Buffalo arena rafters. William Nylander drew two defenders driving up the left wing, and slipped a pass into the middle where a wide-open Tavares snapped inside the left post.

Robertson scored 2:34 into the second period to cap a two-on-one break by beating Luukkonnen through the legs. He was set up by Mathew Knies, who stripped Buffalo’s Connor Clifton of the puck inside the Toronto blue line, before breaking up the left wing.

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host Florida on Monday night.

Sabres: Host Washington on Tuesday night.

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