June 22nd, 2024

Devils down Maple Leafs 6-5; Matthews scores two more to reach 68 goals on the season

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on April 11, 2024.

TORONTO – Auston Matthews inched ever closer to an audacious goal-scoring milestone.

The Maple Leafs sniper also grabbed another franchise record and passed a club icon in the process.

Toronto, however, is now all but assured of starting the Stanley Cup playoffs on the road.

Jesper Bratt scored his second goal of the game with 1:14 left in regulation Thursday as the New Jersey Devils downed the Leafs 6-5 on a night where Matthews bagged two more goals for a league-topping 68 on the season.

“A little sloppy at times,” the star centre said of the overall performance after getting to nine goals in his last seven contests. “Didn’t seem like we were as dialed in as we should have been.”

Timo Meier, with two goals and an assist, Erik Haula and Nolan Foote provided the rest of the offence for New Jersey (38-37-5). Jake Allen made 27 saves for the Devils, who are playing for pride and jobs in 2024-25 after being eliminated from post-season contention. Luke Hughes had two assists.

“Showed how strong of a team effort we can put in,” said Bratt, who added an assist for a three-point effort.

John Tavares, with two, and David Kampf had the other goals for Toronto (46-24-9). Ilya Samsonov made 14 saves. Max Domi and Mitch Marner chipped in two assists each. William Nylander played the 600th regular-season appearance.

The Leafs now sit five points back of the Florida Panthers for second in the Atlantic Division with three games left on the schedule.

Florida has two games remaining, including Tuesday at home against Toronto. The Panthers also trail Boston by a point, but the Bruins have three dates left on their schedule.

“Loose game, strange game,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Not one that you love, but we’ll move on.”

Looking to become the first player to reach 70 goals in more than three decades, Matthews’ current total is the most in the NHL since Mario Lemieux’s 69 in 1995-96.

“Remarkable,” Tavares said. “It’s really special.”

But tied 4-4 through two periods, Matthews took a tripping penalty in the third and the Devils capitalized when Bratt beat Samsonov with this 26th at 11:03.

Tavares got things back level with 4:47 left in regulation when he buried his second of the evening – and 26th of the campaign – off a Morgan Rielly setup.

But the Devils responded with 74 seconds remaining when Bratt snapped his 27th off the rush.

“We don’t want to play this up-and-down, freewheeling (style),” Matthews said.

Down 3-2 after a wild and sloppy first, Matthews scored his second of the evening and 68th of the campaign at 7:59 before chants of “M-V-P!” rained down from the Scotiabank Arena stands.

The goal was the sniper’s 274th all-time at even strength to pass Mats Sundin for top spot in franchise history.

Kampf made a nice move to score his eighth just 1:17 later before Devils defenceman Simon Nemec got mixed up with Matthews. Domi took exception and dropped the gloves with the rookie, but was out of action for the next 17 minutes after earning an instigator and misconduct.

The Devils got back even with 11.6 seconds left in the period when Meier ripped his second of the night – and 27th overall – on a man advantage to knot things 4-4 through 40 minutes.

Tavares opened the scoring 18 seconds into the first. Haula responded 21 seconds later with his 16th.

Matthews then fired his 67th, and the 366th of his career to pass Dave Keon for third on the franchise’s all-time list, at 6:08.

“Nice to reflect on for a little while,” he said. “But there’s a bigger goal in mind.”

Foote got that one back at 7:57 when he jumped on a giveaway to open his 2023-24 account.

The Devils got the game’s first power play and converted when Meier scored at 12:37 for a 3-2 lead before Matthews equalized with No. 68 in the second.

And set the stage for Saturday’s final home game of the regular season where all eyes will be on No. 34’s pursuit of No. 70.

“He’s rewriting the record books,” Keefe said. “There’s a lot of Leaf fans that, in their lifetime, haven’t seen that many goals in the NHL. It’s pretty remarkable. Wherever this ends up going, who knows?

“I wouldn’t put any limit on it.”

DESERT DEPARTURE?

A native of Scottsdale, Ariz., Matthews was asked about the Arizona Coyotes’ potential move to Salt Lake City, Utah, as early as next season.

“Selfishly, growing up there, them being a big part of me getting into hockey, I’d love for them to figure it out,” he said. “But you kinda understand the position the NHL is in, as well.

“See what happens.”

UP NEXT

Toronto: Hosts the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday.

New Jersey: Visits the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 11, 2024.

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Follow @JClipperton_CP on X.

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