April 26th, 2022, Game 81 against the Detroit Red Wings will go down in Maple Leafs’ History as the game Auston Matthews hit a career and NHL milestone by scoring his 59th and 60th goals of the season. The anticipation of such a career milestone was at a feverish pitch, each game, each shift, each shot was greeted with excitement so few times has this been felt in the league’s largest hockey market.
Auston Matthews represents something greater than what has been seen in the Maple Leafs’ Blue and White in generations; Auston’s 60th goal places him in a very small group of players in NHL history to accomplish such a feat, so small actually that only 4 other players have accomplished this feat since the 1995-96 season, and only one player Mario Lemieux in the 1995-96 season did it faster (62 games to Matthews’ 73 games).
His 60th goal also all but assures him back to back Rocket Richard Trophies for the league’s top goal scorer something no Maple Leafs player has accomplished in decades. And definitely should also place him at the top of the Hart Trophy voting for the NHL’s MVP. He now comfortably owns the franchise record for goals scored in a single season, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is that he has accomplished putting a positive spin on a season fans and media alike had discounted for its importance with everyone’s attention focused on the playoffs and what Auston and his teammates do to break the first round curse.
the excitement of such a career milestone was felt across Leafs Nation and not just to those attending the game, as it also extended to his teammates and coaching staff alike, with Coach Sheldon Keefe having this to say about Matthew’s historical game:
“It’s special. It’s unique. It’s rare. I’m just really happy for him. he works extremely hard- I know the abilities that he has, but he works extremely hard on his game, he works extremely hard off the ice. He takes his craft very seriously. So, to see him at the top of his game, and reaching these milestones, it’s outstanding.”
Even for one night, those people who have discredited what turned out to be a record breaking franchise season, have hope that these playoffs can deliver a different result. How can you not be more optimistic this season, if the first 82 games were this amazing.
Game 82 against Boston this Friday night is one final chance to prepare for what will be a tough road ahead with a first round opponent looking more and more to be back-to-back Stanley Cup winners the Tampa Bay Lightning. But with home ice advantage secured, energy from Matthew’s historic season and a full capacity at Scotia Bank Arena, should be enough to put enough wind in the Maple Leafs sails to overcome the first round and drive for a playoffs much like the regular season, by making them historical and memorable for fans and one the hockey world won’t soon forget.