Matthews, Ovechkin show why they're on different level as Leafs thump Caps

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Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin are operating in their own corners of the NHL record shop.

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But when they generate goals on the same ice, covering three decades of scoring feats, it’s a rare treat. Ovechkin, who has been lighting up the Leafs and everyone else since 2005, scored two, while Matthews almost had another hat trick in Toronto’s 7-3 romp at Capital One Arena in Washington.

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The deuce put league-leader Matthews at 57 in his quest for 70 and to beat his club record, while the Great 8’s pair put him within 50 of passing Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record of 894.

The pre-game story was the fallout from Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe’s bad mood the night before in a flat 4-3 loss in Philadelphia. Keefe took a page from Flyers peer John Tortorella, sitting defenceman TJ Brodie. While this scratch didn’t have the wow factor of Torts benching captain Sean Couturier as it was a back-to-back, Brodie had never been a healthy scratch in his four years as a Leaf and for more than a decade prior in Calgary.

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Keefe said before the game that Brodie’s up-and-down play since October had left little choice but to give him a rest. And after giving up a goal less than 20 seconds into the Philly game, the Leafs responded in kind against a home team coming off a long West Coast trip.

Using a forward line he didn’t preview in warm-up (Toronto didn’t have a morning skate), Keefe had Matthews playing alongside Bobby McMann and Max Domi, who helped pin the puck with Domi centring to Matthews. Coming at the 16-second mark, it was the quickest of the 356 goals Matthews has scored from puck drop and moved him to third in franchise history in opening minute goals with six, behind Dave Keon (nine) and Darryl Sittler (eight).

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With a cacophony of five posts still ringing in their ears from Philadelphia, Toronto added to its lead early in the second period, surviving a 2-on-1 and turning that into a William Nylander rush that he buried under Charlie Lindgren’s crossbar.

Washington got that back with Matthew Knies off for the night’s first penalty. Ovie got off a one-time blast through Joseph Woll, his second half surge this year firing up the debate that the 38-year-old Ovie can catch the Great One and beat Father Time.

Tyler Bertuzzi of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates.
Tyler Bertuzzi, right, of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals during the third period at Capital One Arena on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Patrick Smith /Getty Images

Matthews added his second from long range and thought he had a third before Keefe’s former assistant Spencer Carbery got a heads-up from his video crew that trailer Tyler Bertuzzi had ventured offside. Several hats had already been tossed by Leafs fans in the house with Matthews nearly catching one during his celebration.

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Connor McMichael had earlier played a hard bounce from the dasher off Woll’s body, but Domi’s third assist in 40 minutes — he finished with four helpers overall — restored Toronto’s two-goal lead, a strong press followed by a shot off the screening Jake McCabe. Ovechkin’s second was answered quickly by Matthews setting up Bertuzzi and Nylander feeding McMann.

Even the struggling Toronto power play eventually got going with John Tavares’s goal, clinching a five-point night for Matthews.

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Keefe threw a few different trios at the Caps at the start of the evening and despite having Bertuzzi with Matthews in warm-up, kept the apparently sore Bertuzzi on the bench for half of the first period.

Woll had sat two weeks as Ilya Samsonov solidified the No. 1 job again, facing the Caps and Ovechkin for the second time in his 30th career start. He was tested early and often as Washington sought a fourth straight win to revive its playoff hopes. Woll’s 10th win put the three Leafs stoppers, including Martin Jones as well, into double figures, a first in club history.

The Leafs are expected to take Thursday off and get in a practice before their last game against a Western Conference foe, none other than Connor McDavid and the Oilers. There could be some clarification on Mitch Marner’s recovery from a sprained ankle. Marner was expected to have at least done some light skating back home while the Leafs travelled.

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