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Matthews one away from goal No. 70 as Leafs, Panthers meet in likely playoff preview


Riding an eight-game goal streak, Auston Matthews will take aim at 70 goals once again Tuesday in a potential first-round preview against the Florida Panthers.

A win Tuesday for the Maple Leafs will lock in their first-round meeting with the Panthers. Florida is one point back of the Boston Bruins for first in the Atlantic Division as they prepare for their final game. The Bruins will also play their final game of the season on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators.

Viewers in the Maple Leafs region can watch Tuesday's game LIVE on TSN4 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

Panthers head coach Paul Maurice said Monday he would rest two or three players if his team's playoff spot was locked in. Since the Bruins lost 2-0 to the Washington Capitals on Monday night, though, Florida is expected to dress their full lineup against Toronto. 

Matthews put home his 69th goal of the season in Saturday's overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings, finishing with 10 shots on net as he pursued at the milestone. The 26-year-old centre has two games left in the season, starting Tuesday against Florida, to reach it. 

Head coach Sheldon Keefe appeared to reveal after Saturday's game that he'll be happy to see chase end, as it has perhaps had an effect on the team's focus. 

"That was a major distraction," Keefe said. "It doesn't help us with what we are trying to accomplish on the ice. But it is exciting. I get it. Especially when he got to 69, it is growing. They're anticipating. Now, you're feeding it. I am feeding it. I want it to happen. I wanted it for the fans. But I am glad the game is over. Let's move on."

Matthews was held without a point in his team's first two meetings with the Panthers this season before breaking out with two goals in a 6-3 win over Florida on April 1. Toronto enters Tuesday's game with a 2-1 edge in the season series after also taking a November meeting between the two in a shootout. 

"The story is going to be Auston Matthews chasing 70 goals," Maurice told reporters Monday. "That's the only story and it really should be. It's the only story and it's a great one."

"If he gets 70 and, in truth, I hope he does," he added. "Not against us, but that is such a unique thing to happen in the NHL in the modern era. It is a great story. You only play 82 games, and you score 70 goals? Oh man, that's a hot year, right?"

With his next goal, Matthews will become the ninth player in NHL history to hit the 70-goal mark. There have been 14 70-goal seasons in league history, with Wayne Gretzky owning four of them, Brett Hull having three and Mario Lemieux doing so twice. 

The 26-year-old centre Matthews has already scored the most goals in any season since Lemieux posted 69 in 1995-96, a year before the Maple Leafs star was born. 

NHL 70-Goal Seasons

Player Team Season GP  G P
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers 1981-82 80 92 212
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers 1983-84 74 87 205
Brett Hull St. Louis Blues 1990-91 78 86 131
Mario Lemieux Pittsburgh Penguins 1988-89 76 85 199
Alexander Mogilny Buffalo Sabres 1992-93 77 76 127
Phil Esposito  Philadelphia Flyers 1970-71 78 76 152
Teemu Selanne Winnipeg Jets 1992-93 84 76 132
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers 1984-85 80 73 208
Brett Hull St. Louis Blues 1989-90 80 72 113
Jari Kurri Edmonton Oilers 1984-85 73 71 135
Wayne Gretzky Edmonton Oilers 1982-83 80 71 196
Brett Hull St. Louis Blues 1991-92 73 70 109
Mario Lemieux Pittsburgh Penguins 1987-88 77 70 168
Bernie Nicholls Los Angeles Kings 1988-89 79 70 150

Matthews has already posted the greatest goal-scoring season in Maple Leafs history, now owning the top two spots on the all-time list after scoring 60 goals in 2021-22. 

The Maple Leafs will play the final game of their on Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are locked into the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.