Toronto Maple Leafs: Auston Matthews Scores 40th Goal of the Season

TORONTO, ON - MAY 6: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his 40th goal of the season against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on May 6, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-2.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - MAY 6: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his 40th goal of the season against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on May 6, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Canadiens 5-2.(Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Maple Leafs beat Montreal as Auston Matthews scores 40th goal.

Just. Stay. Healthy. That has been the sentiment surrounding the Toronto Maple Leafs ever since they clinched a playoff berth on April 28th, and that grew even stronger Monday night as the team’s deadline acquisition, Nick Foligno, was removed from the game with an upper-body injury.

It is for that reason that mid-way through the first period, an awkward fall into the boards from heart and soul defensemen Jake Muzzin left Leafsnation holding their breath. A heavy sigh of relief followed as Muzzin managed to regain his footing and finish out the rest of the game as the team’s most important blueliner looks to be okay.

But moving away from that injury scare, all eyes were on Auston Matthews to see if he would deposit his 40th goal of the season.

Toronto Maple Leafs Franchise Players Scores 40th Goal

There is not much else one can say to describe the 2020-21 season from the Leafs 2016 first overall pick. And the sheer dominance the 6”3’, 215-pound Arizona native can impose on a game was on full display Thursday, as Matthews lead all Leaf forwards in shot attempts and scoring chances (stats; Natural Stat Trick).

But the process as to how the Leafs face-of-the-franchise and the team around him got there is what is fundamentally more important. In the first game of this mini three-game series Monday, the Habs were able to etch out a miraculous overtime victory, with the wunderkind rookie sniper, Cole Caufield, capping off the comeback for his second career NHL goal.

One of the major flaws of the 2019-20 version of the Toronto Maple Leafs was their inability to rebound from a crushing loss and often let adversity linger long after the issue(s) should have been dealt with. However, this season, the team has shown an unwillingness to dwell on the past, and with that disappointing defeat, Sheldon Keefe’s team would surely look to come out with a purpose and take control of game two.

Building winning habits.

If you had asked Keefe to draw up his dream start for the Leafs before the game started, even he would not have been so ambitious as to expect the Galcheyuk-Tavares-Nylander trio to score on the team’s first shot of the game, just 16 seconds in. The captain later followed that up with his 18th of the season, putting the Blue and White up two less than three and a half minutes into Cayden Primeau’s fifth career NHL start.

This game from Galchenyuk and the cohesion he continues to show with the Leafs’ second most impactful duo further indicates a fully healthy Toronto Maple Leafs lineup has him occupying the second-line left-wing spot. I do not envy Keefe’s position, but I can assure you, with Zach Hyman and Foligno hopefully returning next week (and possibly Riley Nash as well), someone is coming out and it should not be Galchenyuk.

Filling in for the former Jackets captain on the Toronto Maple Leafs first line, Joe Thornton reassured any doubters he can move up the lineup when necessary, as the team, with the 41-year-old on the ice, dictated 73% of the five-on-five shot attempts and 82% of the five-on-five expected goals.

As the buzzer rang to conclude the first period, Jack Campbell had stopped all nine Canadiens’ shots and his team rode a 4-0 lead into the intermission. With Montreal’s struggles to generate offense, the game felt all but out of reach.

A couple of goals from Caufield and Artturi Lehkonen left the door open a little bit, but as he has done many times this season, Matthews put any doubt to rest as he registered his 40th of the year in just his 49th game.

A perfect three-for-three night on the penalty kill has to instill some confidence in Keefe and short-handed coach Dave Hakstol as the staff looks to have the special teams operating like a well-oiled machine heading into the playoffs.

As the standings would indicate, this was a very dominating performance from the North division leaders, as the Leafs, at five-on-five, controlled 58% of the shot attempts, 60% of the scoring chances, 63% of the high-danger chances, and 60% of the expected goals.

Keefe was looking for a bounce-back performance after the team’s five-game win streak was snapped Monday night and boy did he get one.

Next. Multiple Injury Updates for the Toronto Maple Leafs. dark

There is not much the Toronto Maple Leafs should look to change come the rubber match Saturday night – although a powerplay goal would be nice. With three games left in the regular season, there are only three words that remain important right now: Just. Stay. Healthy.