Auston Matthews scored twice to raise his NHL-leading goal total to 38 as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Saturday for their fifth straight win.
Adam Brooks, Alex Galchenyuk and Joe Thornton, into an empty net, had the other goals for Toronto (33-13-5), while Mitch Marner added two assists. Jack Campbell stopped 26 shots for the North Division’s top team, which finished 5-3-1 against the Canucks in 2021.
Matthews’ 38 goals have come in just 47 games — he missed four with a wrist injury — and he’s found the back of the net a jaw-dropping 17 times in his last 17 contests.
The 23-year-old sniper’s second of the night was his league-best 12th game-winner, and moved him one back of Charlie Conacher’s franchise-record 13 in a season.
Tanner Pearson replied for Vancouver (19-23-3), which got 25 saves from Thatcher Demko. After beating the Leafs twice in Vancouver coming off their COVID-19 shutdown that saw 21 players and four staff members test positive, the Canucks have lost five of six — and four in a row in regulation.
Vancouver announced before the game forward Jake Virtanen has been placed on leave following “concerning allegations” of sexual misconduct. The team released a statement saying it “does not accept sexual misconduct of any kind and the claims as reported are being treated very seriously.”
The Canucks added they have “engaged external expertise” to assist in an independent investigation. Head coach Travis Green declined to answer any questions on the situation in his pre-game media availability, including if Virtanen is still with the team or when he learned of the allegations.
On the other side, Nick Foligno picked up an assist in his first game at Scotiabank Arena since coming over in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to last month’s trade deadline.
Sporting the same No. 71 his dad, Mike, wore when he played for the Leafs in the early 1990s, the veteran forward sat out his new team’s 4-1 victory over Vancouver on Thursday along with Campbell, and defencemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin, with an eye towards managing wear and tear ahead of the playoffs.
Tied 1-1 through 20 minutes, the Leafs took their first lead 3:50 into the second period when Marner stole the puck from Alexander Edler behind Vancouver’s net and found Matthews in front to fire home his 38th of the campaign.
The puck actually took a deflection off Edler, who was on the wrong end of a fight with Wayne Simmonds on Thursday for his knee-on-knee hit on Toronto’s Zach Hyman when the teams played in Vancouver last month, and fooled Demko.
Pearson had a golden opportunity to double his tally after putting Vancouver up 1-0 in the first off a Matthews turnover in front of his own net, but Campbell was there with the glove.
Toronto stretched its advantage to 3-1 at 4:55 of the third when Brooks, who continues to solidify his spot on the fourth line alongside Thornton and Jason Spezza, tipped Justin Holl’s point shot by Demko for his fourth.
Galchenyuk rounded out the scoring with his fourth at 11:39 after Demko made the initial stop on William Nylander.
Thornton then buried his fifth into an empty net with two minutes left to seal it.
The Canucks, who registered just two shots in Thursday’s opening period, had a much better start and got on the board with 6:32 left in the first when Pearson fired his 10th through a screen off Campbell’s far post on a set play following an offensive zone faceoff.
The Leafs responded just 1:56 later when Foligno and Marner combined to find Matthews in front to score his 37th on a shot that went off J.T. Miller’s stick, the post and past Demko.
Matthews had another great chance earlier in the period, but Demko was there to stop the first shot before Toronto’s star centre batted the rebound out of mid-air just wide.
Notes: Canucks centre Tyler Motte, who left Thursday’s game with an undisclosed injury, didn’t dress for the visitors. … Vancouver, which has 11 games remaining on its schedule, play the Edmonton Oilers four times between Monday and next Saturday. … Toronto plays Montreal three times next week beginning Monday before closing out its regular season with games against the Ottawa Senators and Winnipeg Jets.
THE CANADIAN PRESS