Auston Matthews reaches new heights as he passes Rick Vaive for most goals in a Leafs season


DALLAS—Auston Matthews stands alone among Maple Leafs goal scorers in the 105-year history of the franchise.

On Thursday night against the Stars, Matthews scored on the power play at 18:58 of the second period — on a feed from Mark Giordano — for his 55th goal, breaking Rick Vaive’s single-season record. It was his 10th shot on goal of the night.

His linemates mobbed him, and the Leafs fans at the American Airlines Center chanted “MVP.”

Matthews tied Vaive’s franchise mark of 54 with a hat trick on Monday in Tampa, then failed to score Tuesday in Florida. He said before Thursday’s game that he wasn’t worrying about the record.

“It hasn’t really weighed on me too much. I take it game by game, and obviously every game I’m trying to create offense and try to score and try to produce and help the team win,” he said.

Matthews could well become the first Leaf to score 60 in a season, and the first NHLer to do so in a decade.

“He’s feeling it right now,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “He’s extremely confident, as he should be. But most importantly, he’s doing things that lead to winning. Scoring is one of them, but he’s doing a lot of other things that help our team win. And then it just so happens, it also leads to him scoring more.”

Matthews leads the league in total goals, even-strength goals (40) and goals per game (0.84).

The good sport in all of this has been Vaive, who gamely answered a variety of media calls as Matthews chased down his record.

“I don’t have any problem,” Vaive said. “I’m actually enjoying it. He’s a hell of a player and obviously a magnificent goal scorer. It’s not a problem for me. I’ve had (the record) for 40 years, and it’s probably time for a generational player like him to take over that crown.

Auston Matthews went into Thursday night's game against the Stars tied with Rick Vaive for most goals in a single season by a Maple Leaf.

“He’s worked extremely hard in the off-season to become a better player every year. That’s important. For him to do what he’s doing, I think that’s great.”

Vaive was the first Leaf to surpass 50 goals in a season, in 1981-82 — 37 years after Maurice (Rocket) Richard became the first NHLer to score 50. Vaive said it surprised him at the time that he was the first Leaf to hit the mark.

“When I got to around 44 or 45 and people started talking about it and telling me, ‘You know, you could be the first Leaf to get 50,’ I went: ‘Really?’ I was shocked. I just figured someone had done it before.”

He’s also surprised his mark has stood for so long. Gary Leeman got to 51, Dave Andreychuk 53.

“It’s been 40 years. I’m surprised because some of the good players they brought in here like (Mats) Sundin. He’s the team’s all-time scoring leader and never got there.”

Matthews probably wouldn’t be in contention for his second Rocket Richard Trophy without the help of winger Mitch Marner. The duo have seemingly taken their game to another level this season.

“It’s their work ethic and their drive to win and to compete at a high level,” said Keefe. “They’re competing with each other in a healthy way, they’re competing with other elite players in the league, and they’re competing with other teams in the league and they are leaders of our group. They’ve got all those things that are pushing them and driving them.

“The playoffs are the most important time of the year. But this is an important time right now. We’re trying to solidify ourselves first for the playoffs and then in the standings for seeding.”

Matthews still has a chance to score 50 goals within a 50-game stretch. Richard was the first to accomplish that.

The league recognizes the record from the start of the season as Wayne Gretzky’s (50 in 39). Gretzky also got 50 in 42 and 60 in 49. Mike Bossy scored 50 in 50. Mario Lemieux did it in 46 games. Brett Hull had 50 in 49 as well as 50 in 50.

There have been others to have scored 50 over a 50-game stretch of a single season. Lemieux did it twice. Alexander Mogilny, Jari Kurri and Cam Neely also did it.

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