Matthews scores two more, as Maple Leafs hang on to beat Panthers 6-4 in potential playoff preview

TORONTO (AP) — Auston Matthews scored his NHL-leading 61st and 62nd goals of the season to go along with an assist as the Toronto Maple Leafs built a four-goal lead before hanging on late to down the Florida Panthers 6-4 in a potential first-round playoff preview Monday night.

“Unbelievable player, (future) Hall of Famer,” said Toronto winger Nicholas Robertson, who finished with a goal and an assist. “I really hope he gets to 70. It would be something special to witness.”

Matthew Knies also had a goal and an assist each for Toronto, while Tyler Bertuzzi and David Kampf provided the rest of the offense.

Matthews is now on pace for 69 goals — which would be the most in the NHL since Mario Lemieux hit the same number in 1995-96 — with eight games left on the schedule.

“We just came out with a lot of purpose,” said Matthews, whose 17 multigoal performances is the most in a season over the last 30 years. “In the third period, I thought we were a little bit more on our heels than we’d like.”

Ilya Samsonov made 26 saves for the Leafs, who were without five regulars — including star winger Mitch Marner (high ankle sprain) for an 11th straight game.

“Interesting for fans,” Samsonov, who picked up his 100th career victory, said of those anxious final 20 minutes. “We’ve got some nerves for everybody.”

Vladimir Tarasenko had a goal and two assists for Florida. Sam Reinhart, Sam Bennett and Brandon Montour also scored. Sergei Bobrovsky allowed five goals on 16 shots through two periods before getting the hook. Anthony Stolarz made six saves in relief.

“We just don’t bring our best in the beginning,” Tarasenko said. “Good pushback, but not enough.”

The Leafs, who sit third in the Atlantic Division, had a chance to clinch a post-season berth for an eighth consecutive year, but results elsewhere didn’t go their way.

The Panthers, meanwhile, could have overtaken the Boston Bruins for first in the Atlantic with a victory.

“We were really good for two periods,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “They probably weren’t at their best and we capitalized on that. And then probably a little bit of a reverse in the third.”

Toronto opened the scoring at 13:59 of the first period when Robertson scored on a breakaway following a turnover at the Leafs’ blue line.

Matthews, who became just the ninth different player in NHL history to twice hit 60 goals in a season Saturday, doubled the lead 33 seconds later when TJ Brodie circled Florida’s net and found the sniper in front for his 61st.

Matthews scored his 62nd into an empty net to seal it.

“You give them an inch and they’re gonna take a yard,” he said of the Panthers. “Nice to finish off with the win and two points.

“But obviously would like to clean up some stuff.”


Panthers: Visit Montreal on Tuesday.

Maple Leafs: Host Tampa Bay on Wednesday.