Auston Matthews, Alex Ovechkin each score twice in Leafs’ rout


WASHINGTON — Auston Matthews still gets excited about facing Alex Ovechkin, one of his favorite players growing up. And even with Ovechkin authoring a vintage performance, Matthews found a way to steal the spotlight.

Matthews scored his NHL-leading 56th and 57th goals of the season and matched his career high with five points, leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 7-3 rout of the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night despite Ovechkin moving closer to Wayne Gretzky. Meanwhile, Matthews’ pursuit of the first 70-goal in more than three decades is back on track.

Assuming Matthews plays in the Leaf’s 14 remaining games, he is on pace for 68 goals this season, which would be the most goals by any player in a season since Mario Lemieux had 69 goals in 1995-96, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

“When the world’s best are going at it like that, it’s always fun to watch,” Leafs forward Bobby McMann said. “Nice that we came out on the right side of it, but yeah it’s cool to see.”

Ovechkin scored goals 844 and 845 of his career to move 50 back of breaking Gretzky’s record that long seemed unapproachable. He’s now at 23 this season after scoring 15 goals since Jan. 22 to make up for just eight in his first 43 games.

Wednesday’s performance marked his 171st career multi-goal game; only Gretzky has more with 189.

“We’re all kind of running out of words to describe it,” Matthews said. “He’s the greatest goal-scorer of all-time, so it’s always fun to play against him still and still watch him get it done and the excitement and passion he gets when he scores goals. Obviously, we’d like to see him not score against us, but when you’re that good, you’re bound to get opportunities and he makes good on them most of the time.”

Matthews scoring twice — with a third, would-be hat-trick goal getting called back on a coach’s challenge for offside — put him eight away from tying Ovechkin’s career-best season of 65 from 2007-08, which is the highest since the league’s salary-cap era began in 2005. Matthews’ overturned goal was the league’s 90th this season on an offside coach’s challenge, the most in a season since challenges first came into play in 2015-16, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“Obviously, we had zero answer for No. 34 tonight,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said, referring to Matthews’ jersey number.

And while Ovechkin and Matthews combined for four goals in a showcase of the best scorer of this generation and perhaps his successor, they were far from the only ones lightning the lamp. Connor McMichael also scored for Washington, and William Nylander, Jake McCabe, McMann, Tyler Bertuzzi and John Tavares had Toronto’s other goals in a nice bounce-back from a 4-3 loss Tuesday night at Philadelphia.

“We found a way to answer it as a group, and I thought everyone did a great job of that from the first shift,” said Max Domi, who had four assists. “Had everyone going, and we’re a tough team to beat when we play like that.”

As part of a high-event, quick-scoring hockey game that was not friendly to the goaltenders, Joseph Woll made 18 saves in net for the Leafs and Charlie Lindgren made 22 for the Capitals, who failed to move back into a playoff position with their winning streak ending at three. They sit one point back of Detroit for the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Nobody said it’s going to be easy,” Ovechkin said.

The Caps lost while playing without injured winger T.J. Oshie and forward Aliaksei Protas. Toronto enforcer Ryan Reaves was also out after being poked in the right eye during a fight Tuesday night in Philadelphia, while veteran defenseman T.J. Brodie was a healthy scratch.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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