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Matthews scores No. 65, Leafs down Pens in OT

TORONTO – Sidney Crosby has seen plenty of hockey.

Even the Pittsburgh Penguins captain is blown away by Auston Matthews’ pursuit of 70 goals.

“Seems like a crazy number, but he could do it,” the 36-year-old said before his team took on the Maple Leafs. “It’s amazing. Speaks a lot to the consistency that he’s had.”

Matthews kept his torrid pace going Monday — and matched one of the game’s greats in the process.

The sniper scored his 65th goal of the season before setting up Jake McCabe’s winner 90 seconds into overtime as Toronto downed Pittsburgh 3-2.

“You know, 60 was crazy … 65 it’s … you look at it in awe,” said winger Matthew Knies, who had the Leafs’ other goal. “It’s pretty incredible what he can do.

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“Cross my fingers. I want to see 70.”

Matthews has scored six times in the last five games, and remains on pace to put up 69 goals with five contests left on the regular-season schedule as he looks to become the first player to hit 70 in more than three decades.

Matthews’ 65 goals also matches Alex Ovechkin’s total from 2007-08 — the most by an active player and the NHL’s high-water mark since Mario Lemieux scored 69 in 1995-96.

“He’s going about it the right way,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “He’s trusting that his ability is going to shine through — he’s going to be able to score — and however it works out in the end, I think he’ll be content.

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“Certainly should be proud of what he’s done, how he’s handled himself, all the way through.”

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Ilya Samsonov made 30 saves for Toronto (45-23-9). Rickard Rakell and Drew O’Connor replied for Pittsburgh (36-30-12), now 6-0-3 over its last nine to get back into the Eastern Conference playoff race.

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Crosby added an assist to give him 17 points over those nine games as the three-time Stanley Cup champion tries to will his team into the playoffs.

“It’s honestly hard to put into words just what he’s been able to do,” said Matthews, who had an accidental collision with Crosby in the second period that sent both players tumbling. “Continues to elevate his game.”

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Pittsburgh, which could have leapfrogged the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild-card spot with a win, got 20 stops from Alex Nedeljkovic.

The Penguins sat nine points below the playoff cutline on March 27, but have dragged themselves back in the fight thanks to the point streak — and some pedestrian performances from some of the other teams in the race.

“Close game,” said Crosby, who had a skate issue and never saw the ice in OT. “We’ll look at this as hopefully an important point here down the road.”

Matthews snapped a 1-1 tie on the power play at 1:22 of the third with Pittsburgh defenceman Erik Karlsson, who wears No. 65, in the box when he ripped a one-timer three seconds into the man advantage.

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“Incredible,” McCabe said. “We’re in awe just as much as you guys are.”

Fighting for its post-season life, Pittsburgh tied things at 13:18 when Drew O’Connor swatted home a loose puck in the crease for his 14th.

McCabe then took a pass from Matthews in the extra period after a near mix-up on a change between Mitch Marner and Tyler Bertuzzi at Toronto’s bench before burying his eighth of the campaign.

“I was waiting to see what Mitch and Bert were gonna do,” the bruising defenceman deadpanned. “Auston found me on the backside.”

For a team with a history of taking more than its fair share of too-many-men penalties, Keefe exhaled a few feet away.

“Really glad it was Mitch on the ice,” he said with a smile. “That processor works at a pretty high rate of speed.”

Pittsburgh opened the scoring at 18:06 of the first when Evgeni Malkin took advantage of a turnover and fed Rakell, who kicked the puck to his stick before spinning and firing his 14th.

Toronto, which has already secured a post-season berth, tilted the ice to start the second before T.J. Brodie found Knies to redirect his 15th past Nedeljkovic.

The teams then traded chances before Crosby rounded out the period by crashing into the net after being obstructed, taking a puck to the mouth, and colliding with Matthews in that sequence that sent both stars to the ice.

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“Bit of a scary moment,” Matthews said. “Tough five minutes there for him. Just hoping he was OK.

“Unintentional.”

What remains very much intentional is that pursuit of 70 goals.

LEAFS INJURIES

Joel Edmundson (undisclosed) could play Thursday when New Jersey visits Scotiabank Arena, but fellow defenceman Timothy Liljegren (upper body) and forward Calle Jarnkrok (hand) are more likely to return next week at the earliest.

UP NEXT

Toronto: Visits the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh: Hosts the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 8, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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