NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning

NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Monday’s top NHL players

Auston Matthews (and, to a lesser extent, Mitch Marner), Maple Leafs

Well, if you griped about Auston Matthews reaching 50 goals on an empty-netter,* he delivered his next goals in the satisfying form of an empathic hat trick.

Despite being limited to 64 games compared to 70 for Leon Draisaitl, Auston Matthews really strengthened his lead in the Maurice Richard Trophy race. While Draisaitl reached 50 goals on Sunday, Matthews pushed his season total to 54, and also collected an assist during the NHL action on Monday.

Matthews has a ways to go to get to 100 points, as he’s now at 92 (54G + 38A). It’s all the more astounding when you factor in Matthews’ near-Selke-level all-around play, including remarkable discipline. (Through 398 career regular-season games, Matthews has only generated 70 penalty minutes.)

* – Uh, maybe get some fresh air or something?

Later on in this post, we’ll focus more broadly on Matthews’ Maple Leafs being too much for the Lightning to handle. First, let’s dig through a few more tidbits about Auston Matthews at 54 goals:

  • Those 54 goals leave Matthews tied with Rick Vaive for the Maple Leafs’ single-season franchise record.
  • By reaching 54 goals, Matthews already has more goals than any other player in a decade. Steven Stamkos scored 60 in 2011-12; could Matthews surpass that total, too? The league notes that Matthews is on pace for 65 goals.

At the moment, Auston Matthews is on a six-game goal streak, and a 13-game point streak. Just illustrious, possibly Hart Trophy-worthy stuff.

Mitch Marner isn’t far behind Matthews. He scored a goal and two assist during that Maple Leafs win over the Lightning during the NHL games on Monday. Overall, Marner has produced 84 points in 60 games.

Monday NHL highlights

Watch that Auston Matthews hat trick:

Jake DeBrusk scored two goals for the Bruins, including the OT-winner vs. the Blue Jackets:

Johnny Gaudreau scored a mere 10 seconds into the Flames’ game against the Kings.

Monday NHL Takeaways

Maple Leafs pull away from Lightning on big night for Matthews, Marner

5:46 through the second period, a Jan Rutta goal tied things up 2-2 between the Maple Leafs and the Lightning. Toronto would end up scoring four unanswered goals to win 6-2. Matthews already scored a goal before that 2-2 tie, but he really dominated as the game went on, finishing with that hat trick and assist.

While the high-danger chance battle was fairly close (Toronto developed a 14-12 advantage at 5-on-5), the Maple Leafs really punished Andrei Vasilevskiy from the “prime real estate” of the ice. This Natural Stat Trick heat map tells some of the story:

NHL Rink Wrap: Matthews powers Maple Leafs, Bruins pass Lightning

Afterward, the Lightning didn’t sound happy about their performance against the Maple Leafs. Jon Cooper, among others, vented:

Speaking of where the Maple Leafs and Lightning (and, for that matter, the Bruins) are at, here’s the updated Atlantic Division standings from ranks 2-4:

Maple Leafs: 95 points in 69 games played, 43 regulation/OT wins
Bruins: 93 points in 69 GP, 42 ROW
Lightning: 93 points in 69 GP, 41 ROW

Even with this win, the Maple Leafs merely hold a small two-point lead over the Bruins and Lightning for the second Atlantic Division spot. (No one’s especially close to the Panthers, atop with 102.)

Remarkably, the Bruins hold a tiebreaker advantage over the Lightning after their Monday games in the NHL. Actually, about the Bruins …

Bruins grind out OT win powered in part by DeBrusk; end Monday ahead of Lightning

If you shot the Maple Leafs with truth serum, who would they prefer to face in the first round: the Bruins or the Lightning?

In one corner, you have the defending repeat champion Lightning. In the other corner, you have the historic rival Bruins, who happen to be 17-2-1 in their last 21 games.

Tough choice!

Like an alternate Evgenii Dadonov, it sure seems like a resurgent Jake DeBrusk makes the Bruins scarier. With two goals during the NHL action on Monday, DeBrusk is now on a five-game goal streak (6G, 2A). That’s after being limited to a single assist and zero goals in eight games from March 7-24.

This marks the second time DeBrusk’s reached the 20+ goal mark (21). It won’t be easy to match his career-high of 27 goals, but it’s far from implausible.

No doubt, it helps DeBrusk to line up alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Yet, if he can produce with those two stars, that allows the Bruins to diversify their attack by also lining up Taylor Hall with David Pastrnak.

Tuesday’s big story

Another night that could influence the race for the final Western Conference playoff spots

Teams like the Avalanche, Flames, Wild, and Blues feel like they’re mainly trying to improve already-good situations out West. Maybe you feel the same way about the Kings and Oilers.

But there is still significant room for movement in the West, particularly with the final two wild-card spots. The Predators hope to strengthen their hold over a spot against the Wild, while the Stars hope to avoid another letdown, this time against a spoiler threat in the Islanders. (If you don’t trust the Oilers yet, they’re in action against the Sharks.)

Beyond those more urgent games, there are some other treats in Maple Leafs – Panthers and Avalanche – Penguins. Overall, Tuesday looks like a true feast for fans.

Monday NHL scores

Maple Leafs 6, Lightning 2
Blues 5, Coyotes 1
Bruins 3, Blue Jackets 2 (OT)
Flames 3, Kings 2

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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