Red Wings blanked in Toronto, Auston Matthews reaches 60-goal milestone
The Red Wings got an up close and personal look Tuesday at Auston Matthews' personal rampage through the NHL.
Matthews, the NHL's goal-scoring leader, scored two goals to reach the 60-goal milestone as Toronto defeated the Red Wings, 3-0.
Matthews scored No. 60 with a third-period, power-play goal, a wrist shot from the high slot that beat goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, giving the Leafs a 3-0 lead. Matthews became the first 60-goal scorer in the NHL since Tampa's Steven Stamkos in 2011-12.
"If you score 60 goals, you are finding ways to get it done no matter who you match up against," forward Sam Gagner said. "He's a special talent, one of the top players in the league, certainly the top goal scorer. He's going to get his looks. You just try to limit him and try to keep him to the outside as much as you can.
"It's a really hard league to score in. I know this year there's been kind of a little bit of a scoring renaissance but he's kind of separated himself. Everyone talks about his shot but he scores in a bunch of different ways."
John Tavares added the other Toronto goal, his 27th, and Port Huron native goaltender Jack Campbell stopped 20 shots for his fifth shutout.
The victory clinched the second-seed for Toronto (53-21-7) in the Atlantic Division, and home-ice advantage in the first round against either Tampa Bay or Boston.
For the Red Wings (31-40-10), it was a fine effort against a playoff-contending team with so much offensive firepower. But the attrition in the Wings' lineup took its toll against the Leafs.
The Wings were already missing forwards Dylan Larkin (core surgery), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Filip Zadina (appendix), and didn't have Tyler Bertuzzi in Toronto because of Bertuzzi's unvaccinated status (can't travel to Canada).
Defenseman Marc Staal was placed on the COVID-19 list Tuesday, forcing Staal out of the lineup, and the Wings were also missing forward Adam Erne (undisclosed injury).
"You're playing a team that's a real good hockey team, so you want to stay in the game and on the road, make it boring, and in a situation like this, find a way to capitalize on your chances," coach Jeff Blashill said. "We were able to keep it 0-0 for a long time, we had some chances to go up, and if you score, potentially it's a different game.
"In a lot of ways, we put ourselves in position to win a hockey game."
Nedeljkovic stopped 33 shots in a busy night in net and kept the Wings close early on.
But Matthews broke a 0-0 tie at 15 minutes, 48 seconds of the second period, scoring his 59th goal.
Leafs forward Jason Spezza outmuscled Jake Walman for the puck near the post, and fed Matthews driving through the slot. Matthews slipped the puck through Nedeljkovic with a backhand flip.
"He's been excellent his whole career," said Blashill, who compared the difficulty of what Matthews has accomplished as a center to a young defenseman.
"Those are hard positions to be great. He's done a real good job over time of getting better and better on the defensive side of the puck. He's better at making sure he's checking well, and with that, they've won a bunch of games.
"There are moments, whether he's added strength or confidence, but he's just been really taking games over when you feel he gets to a whole another level.
"There's been nights he's been an absolute beast, and with the package he has with the size and skill and skating and shooting, when he's in that mode, he's really hard to contain, even for the best players in the world on the other team. That's what a guy like he can do. He's just an elite NHL package."
The Wings had a patched together lineup, but Blashill liked the way the Wings competed against a playoff-bound team.
"We did a pretty good job of defending and checking and being above them and the opportunities, for the most part, were contested, not big time chances," Blashill said. "We kept ourselves in position to win the hockey game. We're obviously a bit undermanned, so keeping yourself on the road in position to win the game, at some point you have to capitalize and turn the momentum (your way)."