Aston Mathews scored his 35th goal of the season in the NHL this season as the Toronto Maple Leafs beat Montreal Canadians 4-1 on Wednesday night to advance to the playoffs.
William Nylander, Jack Musin and Adam Brooks gave Toronto (31-13-5) the rest of the offense, with 32 saves from Jack Campbell. Morgan Rielli and Jason Spessa each added two assists as the Northern Division leaders advanced to 521-0.
Spessa now ranks 966th in the NHL’s all-time scoreboard with Canadian legend Maurice (Rocket) Richard.
Leafs winger Joe Thornton, who holds the record for the oldest player in goal owner history to score when he saw the back of the net on Saturday, helped set the goal for Musin, the seventh player in league history to record 1,100 career assists.
Nick Suzuki responded to Montreal (21-18-9) with Jack Allen stopping 25 shots.
The Leaf and the fourth-placed Canadians – ready to go upside down three more times before the end of the regular season – are set to meet in the playoffs for the first time since 1979.
Toronto are now turning their immediate attention to a two-game series starting Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks, while the Montreal and Winnipeg Jets, who are up to six points in the Northern Finals for the post-final season, host the Winnipeg Jets ahead of the city on Saturday.
Already without winger Brendan Gallagher (broken thumb) and No. 1 goalie Gary Price (concussion), the Canadians announced on Wednesday that they will be taking an indefinite leave of absence ahead of the game ahead of Jonathan Drew.
Toronto took a 1-0 lead in the first period of a power play, with Nylander finishing a beautiful passing scene on the lips of Allen’s folds for his 15th goal of the season.
Having played their 16th game in 28 days due to schedule changes due to COVID-19, the Canadians had trouble finding the legs early and were paid back at 8:44 on Mathews’ incredible personal effort.
After linemate Nick Foligno threw a pass in the middle that threw Suzuki, the star center of the leaves hit the side from the middle, knocking down his 35th last surprise Allen in the same swing.
Mathews has now scored 17 goals and 28 points in 21 career games against the Canadians.
Josh Anderson had a chance to cut in half at the other end, but before Alan Mathews refused to leave, Campbell was caught out of position and fired widely.
After winning two games at Winnipeg after a 0-3-2 run, the Leaves went 3-0 at 6:27 when Musin’s point shot left the stick on Canadian defender John Merrill, ahead with Thornton for his third campaign.
Thornton joined Wayne Gretzky (1,963), Ron Francis (1,249), Mark Messier (1,193), Ray Borg (1,169), Jaromir Zagger (1,155) and Paul Coffey (1,135) as the only players in NHL history to break 1,100 assists.
The Canadians came close at that point, having scored two or less goals in 10 of 12 games since Gallagher’s injury on April 5, but Campbell Joel split the Army.
Suzuki, who took a crucial two points on Calgary on Monday to provide the much-needed breathing room in the playoff chase, made a one-off return to Montreal – at 15:15 Suzuki was given too much space in a hurry and fired one way from the screen to his 10th.
The Canadians got a power play for five minutes in third place, but couldn’t make much of it, and Rookie Cole Cowfield doubled his chances in his second NHL game.
At 8:15, before Toronto reached the game, Spessa stole the back of the Montreal net from Allen and fed in front of Brooks for third.
Spesa’s 966 points come in 1,170 games, while Richard has the same number in 978 games.
Notes: Leafs captain John Tavares saw his point series in eight games. … The 26-year-old Drew has been placed on long-term injury reserve after disappearing from a disease unrelated to COVID-19 in Montreal’s last three matches before Wednesday. … Leaves return to Bell Center on Monday before the end of the season series on May 6 and 8 at the Scotiabung Arena in Toronto.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on April 28, 2021.