The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2 on Monday night.
Normally, the Toronto Maple Leafs defeating the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions and division rivals would be the big story of the night, just not tonight.
Auston Matthews, the odds-on favorite to win the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, scored a hattrick on route to his 54th goal of the season, which ties the Leafs single season goal scoring record with Rick Vaive, who also did it in 1981-82.
Incredibly, the hattrick goal gave Matthews 47 goals in his last 47 games, a goal scoring pace not seen since the likes of Mario Lemieux roamed the earth.
The last time anyone was scoring like this, there were a lot more goals per game, on average. Today’s game is relatively low scoring – for example, when Rick Vaive scored his 54 goals, it was among the highest scoring seasons ever, and there were ten 50 goal scorers that year, and Wayne Gretzky led the league with 92.
With 13 games left in the season, Matthews only needs six for 60, and if he keeps up his recent goal-per-game pace, he’ll finish with 67, which, according to this Sportsnet article about Era Adjusted scoring, would be one of the best NHL seasons of all-time. (stats naturalstattrick.com).
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Tampa
Besides the Auston Matthews Show, Mitch Marner had three points, Pierre Engvall scored another nice goal, and Jack Campbell was excellent again, allowing just two goals and really keeping the Leafs alive until the offense came through.
The win is the Toronto Maple Leafs fifth in a row, and gives them 93 points on the season, good for fourth overall. They have a .688 points percentage, which is also fourth best in the NHL.
The Leafs remain seven points back of the Florida Panthers for 1st in the Atlantic, which means that right now they’d open the playoffs at home vs Tampa, which is a pretty lousy reward for finishing fourth overall.
A win tonight vs the Panthers would put the Leafs only five points back with 12 games to go.
The craziest thing about the Leafs record is that they are 4th overall while ranking fourth last in 5v5 save percentage. And yet, as recently as 2021, the Leafs starter, Jack Campbell, was the best goalie in the NHL (from Jan.1st 2021 to Dec. 31st 2021 Campbell lead the NHL in save percentage and goals-for percentage by a goalie).
Therefore, it is reasonable to expect, given their success to date in spite of their goalies, that if Campbell can return anywhere close to his 2021 form, that they will be unstoppable.
And you know what? Even if that doesn’t turn out to be true and they don’t finally win it all, this is just a really fun team to watch and cheer for, and every single night you’re just tuning in to see what they do next.