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Published March 31, 2024

Matthews scores 60th as Maple Leafs blank Sabres 3-0

Leafs Matthews - AP

By John Wawrow, 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.

“It means a lot, obviously. This is much of a team accomplishment in my opinion as an individual one,” Matthews said. “It’s always a fun atmosphere here with all the blue and white in the stands. Definitely pretty cool.”

Matthews chased down Sabres defenceman Bowen Byram, who broke his stick while attempting to play the puck in Buffalo’s zone. After his first attempt was stopped by Ukko-Pekka Lukkonen, Matthews sent the puck back to the point. Lukkonenen stopped Conor Timmins' shot, with Matthews sweeping the loose puck into the open left side.

Among the Maple Leafs fans was a group of eight wearing white shirts that spelled out “M-A-T-T-H-E-W-S,” sitting directly behind the Sabres bench. In celebrating Matthews’ goal, they raised two gold air balloons of a 6 and 0.

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.

“It’s really impressive. Obviously, he’s able to score a lot of goals, but his play in all three zones away from the puck with the puck is just exceptional,” Tavares said about Matthews. “He’s just the total package.”

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 the 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! Sammy!”

“I’ve got to find a way to bury some of those,” said Cozens in a game the Sabres’ power-play finished 0 for 6. “It definitely gets frustrating after a while. You get tons of chances and the goalie just stands on his head.”

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

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. 

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.

Aside from his uncle’s ties to Buffalo, Tavares noted that he would often attend games and root for the Sabres No. 11, Hall of Famer Gilbert Perreault.

“I guess a good omen for me, considering the No. 11 that wore that I came to watch a lot as a kid,” he said. “Pretty cool to hit 1,100 in a game playing here.”

Robertson scored 2:34 into the second period to cap a two-on-one break.

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host the Florida Panthers on Monday.

Sabres: Host the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.

Banner image via The Associated Press

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