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Matthews scores NHL-leading 54th goal as Leafs down Sabres in OT

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs Auston Matthews - The Canadian Press

TORONTO — Ilya Samsonov didn't have a lot to do early.

The Maple Leafs goaltender made up for lost time late to secure one point.

Auston Matthews then ensured their team also grabbed the second.

The sniper scored his NHL-leading 54th goal of the season at 4:20 of overtime after Samsonov made 24 saves Wednesday as the Leafs downed the Buffalo Sabres 2-1.

Without a shot on target for the first 15 minutes, Samsonov had to be razor-sharp towards the end of regulation and again in the extra period.

"He's been playing unbelievable for us lately and has really found his groove," Matthews said. "Really confident in there. It's just been great to see."

"It's not fun," Samsonov said of failing to see any rubber until the Sabres pumped 10 shots his way late in the first. "But I'm just doing my work … just control what I can control."

William Nylander had the goal in regulation for Toronto (36-18-8) in a low-event game that followed Buffalo victories of 6-4 and 9-3 earlier in the schedule.

"You can understand why the guys are a little gun shy, being a little more careful," said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe. "That hurt us a little bit offensively. But you're playing a tight game, the next mistake could be the difference.

"We stayed with it."

Victor Olofsson, a healthy scratch the last nine outings, replied for Buffalo (29-29-5). Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 25 stops.

"They have some very highly skilled players over there," Sabres centre Dylan Cozens said. "We just wanted to play a mature game."

Matthews, who had one goal in his last five contests, took a pass from Mitch Marner and roofed the winner in OT on the heels of a huge Samsonov glove save on Tage Thompson in the slot.

"He was a wall out there," Nylander said. "Kept us in the game."

Coming off Monday's 4-1 loss to Boston, the Leafs are now seven points back of the Bruins — with two games in hand — for second in the Atlantic Division. The teams play a rematch at TD Garden on Thursday.

The Sabres, who beat Toronto at Scotiabank Arena on Nov. 4 and thumped the Leafs at home Dec. 21 when Samsonov allowed five goals on 19 shots before getting the hook, are nine points adrift of the Eastern Conference's second wild-card spot.

Nylander opened the scoring at 2:29 of the second when he took a pass from Tyler Bertuzzi and ripped his 34th following the end of a 10-game point streak Monday.

Olofsson tied it at 6:31 when he snapped his fifth upstairs off the rush.

Nylander had a couple of short-handed chances on the same penalty kill later in the period, including a shot off the post from a sharp angle and nice solo effort.

Samsonov, who has rebounded nicely since his early struggles this season that included a demotion to the American Hockey League, made a slick glove stop on Alex Tuch four minutes into the third.

"He's been a rock star for us," Bertuzzi said. "It's good to see him do his thing again."

Luukkonen then denied Matthews at the other end from in tight before the Leafs hit another post on a scramble.

Samsonov had to be quick in the dying seconds on a point shot that changed direction in the slot to force extra time.

"These are games that we're comfortable (in)," Matthews said. "We've been in situations like that before."

Toronto led 6-0 on the shot clock with just over five minutes left in the first before Buffalo, which barring a late charge will miss the playoffs for a 13th straight season, directed those 10 consecutive attempts on Samsonov.

"Not a lot of offence, not a lot of a lot of pucks coming to him," said Keefe, who mentioned following the morning skate the goaltender had regained his swagger. "Tough game mentally to stay in and stay engaged.

"He was excellent."


Leafs centre David Kampf (illness) dressed after missing Tuesday's practice, but defenceman Jake McCabe was under the weather and didn't play. Pontus Holmberg was scratched by Toronto, which went with fellow forward Noah Gregor for the first time since Feb. 21.


The Sabres acquired blueliner Bowen Byram from the Colorado Avalanche earlier in the day for centre Casey Mittelstadt. The 22-year-old Byram has eight goals and 20 points in 55 games this season. The NHL trade deadline is set for Friday at 3 p.m. ET.


The Leafs top the NHL with a 23-6-2 record against Western Conference teams, but are just 13-12-6 against the East.


Toronto is at Boston on Thursday, while Buffalo visits Nashville.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 6, 2024.


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