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Matthews nets hat trick, Nylander scores OT winner as Maple Leafs top Flyers

Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate - The Canaidan Press

TORONTO — Auston Matthews took another step toward a mark not reached in more than 30 years.

Following the Maple Leafs' late collapse, one of the team's under-the-weather stars made sure Thursday ended on a positive note.

William Nylander scored 54 seconds into overtime after Matthews registered a natural hat trick in the second period to give him an NHL-leading 45 goals as Toronto survived a blown 3-1 lead late in regulation to down the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3.

"Best goal-scorer in the league," Nylander said of the Leafs' No. 34. "I don't know what else to tell ya."

Matthews is letting his play do the talking.

Held off the scoresheet Tuesday when undrafted depth forward Bobby McMann registered the first hat trick of his career in a 4-1 victory over St. Louis, Matthews completed his three-goal outburst in a 7:49 span to put him on a 71-goal pace through 51 games.

"I'm not surprised," Leafs netminder Ilya Samsonov said of a player who bagged 60 goals in 2021-22.

The fifth three-goal showing of 2023-24 for Matthews tied a franchise record for the most in a season he now shares with Reg Noble (1917-18), Babe Dye (1924-25) and Darryl Sittler (1980-81).

"They're a really stingy team," Matthews said of the Flyers. "Just trying to work them shift after shift and eventually getting those opportunities."

The 26-year-old is looking to become the first NHLer to hit 70 goals since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny both scored 76 in 1992-93.

"Kind of used to it by now," Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren said after his two-assist performance. "Just something he does. He goes on a roll."

Matthews registered his 72nd career multi-goal game to overtake Sittler's franchise mark of 71. He's also now factored in on 211 goals with Mitch Marner, who had three assists, to set another Toronto record as a tandem.

"Incredible player and a great person and a great friend," Matthews said of his linemate. "We just try to push each other as much as we can."

Samsonov made 29 saves for Toronto (28-16-8).

Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly served the second contest of his five-game suspension for cross-checking, but Toronto had Marner and John Tavares back in the lineup after both sat out Tuesday because of illness. Nylander, who missed Wednesday's practice, was also good to go.

Travis Konecny, with a goal and an assist, Travis Sanheim and Garnet Hathaway replied for Philadelphia (29-19-7), which had won four in a row after losing five straight in regulation heading into the all-star break. Samuel Ersson stopped 24 shots in defeat.

"We've got some fight," Flyers head coach John Tortorella said. "Found a way to get a point."

Nylander's winner came when Liljegren moved the puck up the ice — Matthews and Marner changed to keep possession — before feeding the winger for his 27th.

"Saw an opening," Liljegren said. "Better for Willie to have the puck."

Down 1-0 after a sluggish first, the Leafs got even at 11:06 of the second when Matthews took a stretch feed from Marner and fired past Ersson's glove.

Toronto went up 2-1 on a power play at 14:20 when Matthews blasted a one-timer off a Marner setup.

And the sniper completed his 12th career hat trick with 65 seconds left in the period when he ripped another shot that Ersson could only wave at after Liljegren made a good play at the blue line.

The Flyers goaltender denied Matthews, who scored four times in his NHL debut back in 2016, of his 46th in the third on a man advantage.

That sequence kept the comeback door ajar before the Flyers burst through.

Hathaway scored his fifth with 5:46 left in regulation and Konecny added his 26th on a power play 61 seconds later to tie it 3-3 before Toronto secured the extra point.

Philadelphia opened the scoring at 7:42 of the first when the NHL's second-ranked penalty kill struck for its league-leading 13th short-handed goal on Sanheim's fifth.

Samsonov kept his team in it with a couple of big stops later in the period and again early in the second.

Matthews then went to work.

"Exceptional," Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "There's not much else to say."


The NHL's 32 teams have made a combined 13 changes behind the bench since the end of last season.

Tortorella was asked about the craft's current volatility Thursday morning.

"I think coaching has, and I think coaching always will be, one of the most disrespected positions in the game," he said. "It's easy to do … easy to get rid of the guy."


Toronto hosts Anaheim on Saturday, while Philadelphia is set to meet New Jersey outdoors at MetLife Stadium — home of the NFL's New York Giants and New York Jets — as part of the NHL Stadium Series.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 15, 2024.


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