Sunday, April 14, 2024

Auston Matthews scores hat trick, William Nylander seals Leafs’ OT win

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He’s a natural, all right.  

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Auston Matthews’ dominance over National Hockey League goaltenders continued on Thursday night.

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In recording a hat trick in a span of seven minutes 49 seconds in the second period, Matthews lit up Philadelphia Flyers netminder Samuel Ersson, leading the Leafs to a 4-3 victory at Scotiabank Arena.

Matthews’ natural hat trick brought him to 45 goals in 51 games, putting him on pace for 71 goals in 2023-24.

William Nylander scored at 54 seconds of overtime, beating Ersson between the legs after taking a pass from Timothy Liljegren.

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Not that Matthews’ prowess needs an exclamation point, but consider this: He has 344 goals, 76 fewer than the Leafs franchise record of 420 held by Mats Sundin. Matthews has played in 532 games, 449 less than the 981 Sundin skated in for Toronto.

The Flyers had a 1-0 lead before Matthews went off for his fifth hat trick of the season and 12th of his NHL career. Nine of Matthews’ three-goal games have come on home ice. He owes some of you serious hat money.

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“I thought Auston really was the catalyst for us (in the second period), not just because he shot the puck in the net, but just the way he competed,” Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I thought he was a beast for us to really get us going and set the example of what was required. We had a lot of guys who really picked up their game from there.”

A recap of the Matthews damage:

— His first goal came at 11:06 when Mitch Marner, who had the puck in the Leafs’ end, spotted Matthews at the Flyers blue line and fired off a pass. Matthews took the stretch feed, made a few strides into the offensive zone and snapped a low shot past Ersson on the glove side.

— At 14:20 during a Leafs man advantage came a play that Marner and Matthews could, in all likelihood, make with their eyes closed. Parked at the faceoff dot to the left of Ersson, Matthews cocked and loaded, one-timing a Marner pass into the net on the short side.

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— The trick was completed at 18:55 when Matthews got the puck from Liljegren. The latter made a smart play at the Philadelphia blue line, batting down the puck with his hand and taking control of it before the Flyers could react. Matthews received the pass and used his patented curl and drag to hit the back of the net, again on the glove side on Ersson.  

Matthews and Marner have factored on a Leafs goal together 211 times, breaking a team record held by Darryl Sittler and Lanny McDonald.

“He’s an incredible player and a great person and a great friend,” Matthews said. “We try to push each other as much as we can and challenge each other to be the best versions of ourselves every night and try to lead the team by example.

“I feel lucky to play with a lot of these guys, but the majority of the time, I’m playing with him and he’s a special player. It’s a blast.”

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Said Keefe: ““It’s hard to say that I’ve seen (the chemistry between Matthews and Marner) grow. I think the growing happened a long time ago and there’s just a comfort level there.”

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That was the good. 

The ugly?

The Leafs had a 3-1 lead with under six minutes to play but couldn’t hold it. 

After Garnet Hathaway scored on a rebound at 14:14 to bring the visitors to within one goal, the Flyers got a power play at 14:39 when Tyler Bertuzzi was called for tripping deep in the offensive zone. 

As if Bertuzzi’s consistent failure to score wasn’t enough, his penalty came not long after the Leafs killed off a Noah Gregor minor.

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As Bertuzzi watched from the penalty box, Travis Konecny scored from the side of the net at 15:15 to make it 3-3 as Ilya Samsonov scrambled to get in position.

A shorthanded goal by Travis Sanheim in the first period put the Flyers up 1-0.

The Leafs welcomed back Marner and captain John Tavares, who were absent from the victory against St. Louis on Tuesday because of illness. And Nylander was in the lineup after he missed practice on Wednesday for the same reason. 


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It was the Leafs’ third win in five games since the all-star break — and second in a row without the suspended Morgan Rielly — with a visit by the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday concluding the three-game home stand. 

Two nights after they were defensively excellent against the Blues with a depleted lineup, the Leafs demonstrated perseverance against a Flyers group that had won four in a row.

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“(After the Flyers tied the game), I loved how we kept our composure with what was remaining on the clock to make sure we got to overtime,” Keefe said. 

Unlike a year ago, when their spot in the top three in the Atlantic Division was a foregone conclusion for months, the Leafs will be in a fight to move out of a wildcard spot and into the upper reaches of the Atlantic.

“Every day you’ve got to earn it,” Keefe said. “Every day you’re in a fight. Philadelphia is playing with a playoff intensity, right from the start of the season. That has carried them.

“I think that’s really where you want to be when the playoffs come around. For us, we’re going to have to play to the level similar to the type of urgency and commitment like we had the other night (in beating St. Louis), even more in order to get into the playoffs. 

“It’s that tight and the league all around us has improved as well. So that’s a factor. We expect to be in the fight until the end.” 

The Leafs won the round on Thursday.

X: @koshtorontosun

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