TORONTO — Auston Matthews looked a little sheepish after scoring his 50th goal into an empty net last month.
How the Maple Leafs sniper bagged No. 60 was a lot more like it.
Matthews scored twice — including the milestone effort on one of his patented snapshots — to become just the third player in the NHL's salary cap era to register 60 goals in a season as Toronto defeated Detroit 3-0 on Tuesday night.
After being thwarted by Red Wings netminder Alex Nedeljkovic on a couple good looks in the first period, Matthews scored his 59th from in tight with just over four minutes left in the second to set the stage for his 60th in the third.
The 24-year-old kept a puck in at the offensive blue line on a power play and moved into the slot as the seas parted before firing past Nedeljkovic's glove to send the crowd at Scotiabank Arena into a frenzy.
"It was pretty special," Matthews said. "Just the reception from my teammates, the crowd, I mean, everything.
"It just kind of sends chills down your bones."
Fans broke into deafening chants of "M-V-P! M-V-P!" for a superstar they believe more than deserving of his first Hart Trophy.
"There's a lot of players have been great years," said Leafs captain John Tavares, who had the home side's other goal. "I'm being biased, but to me, it's not close.
"Just the way he goes about it, the way he does it, the consistency, some of the things he's done ... you continue to shake your head."
Matthews, who had gone five games without scoring, joined Steven Stamkos in 2011-12 and Alex Ovechkin in 2007-08 as the only players to reach 60 goals since the mid-1990s.
He's also rewritten a chunk of the Leafs' record book this season as the first player to score 50 since 1993-94, the first to ever score 55, and now the first to hit 60.
"Pretty unreal," Tavares added. "A tremendous amount of love from the fans and a great way to do it. Beautiful goal, pretty textbook Auston Matthews snapper.
"We're extremely proud of him."
Matthews has also had an absurd stretch of 51 goals in 50 games.
"It's unique, it's rare," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. "I'm just really happy for him. He works extremely hard."
Jack Campbell made 20 saves to register his fifth shutout of 2021-22 — and first since Jan. 1 — for Toronto (53-21-7), which clinched home ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs and also set a franchise record with its 30th home victory of the season. William Nylander added two assists.
The Leafs are locked into the No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division and will open the post-season next week at Scotiabank Arena against either the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We're working towards something bigger," Matthews said. "Definitely a moment for us to enjoy and be happy about.
"But the job's not done, the work's not finished."
Nedeljkovic stopped 33 shots for Detroit (31-40-10), including those big early saves on Matthews before the reigning Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophhy winner finally broke through.
"Ned played great," Wings forward Sam Gagner said. "If you're scoring 60, you're finding ways to get it done no matter who you're matched up against.
"He's a really special player."
Matthews, who suited up for his third straight game after missing three in a row with an undisclosed injury, solved Nedeljkovic with 4:12 left in the second on a backhand.
And after Tavares doubled the Leafs' lead at 4:03 of the third with his 27th, Matthews made history by burying No. 60 at 5:49 on a play that was close at the blue line.
"I was nervous about it being offside," Matthews said.
Toronto's players and coaches had the same worry until seeing the replay.
"We were maybe a little concerned," Keefe said with a grin. "Once we got a good look at it to see that it definitely was not offside, the guys were real happy."
Some fans threw hats on the ice in honour of the accomplishment, while teammates gave him an ovation on the bench.
"It means a lot," Matthews said. "Just how tight-knit we are and this locker room, it's like a family in there and a brotherhood.
"That's what it's all about."
Mitch Marner, who's played on the same line as Matthews the last three seasons, described what it's been like to watch his teammate's success.
"A lot of fun," he said. "Especially since the start of the season, not how we really wanted to start, just in general playing-wise and chemistry-wise.
"And then kind of from that point on taking over."
Toronto won the first three meetings of the season by a combined 22-15 scoreline, including a wild 10-7 victory in the last meeting Feb. 26 in Detroit, but there wasn't much happening at either end early.
After his chances went begging in the first, Matthews had another great opportunity four minutes into the second before Campbell denied Joe Veleno from the slot on a Detroit power play.
"There's a couple times we had some breakdowns," Keefe said. "Not a lot of them, but when we did, he was solid."
Campbell, who worked through some mid-season struggles following an all-star worthy start to the schedule, then made another good stop on Lucas Raymond to set the stage for Matthews.
"We know the abilities that he has," Keefe said of his team's talisman. "But he works extremely hard at his game, he works extremely hard off the ice. He takes his craft very seriously.
"And I just loved how our fans took care of him tonight. The fans were outstanding in recognition of his accomplishments."
Notes: Toronto defenceman Jake Muzzin, who played for just the 46th time in 2021-22, returned to the lineup after sitting out the last six games with an undisclosed injury. ... Alexander Kerfoot got the call on the left side of the Leafs' top line with Matthews and Marner as Michael Bunting (lower-body injury) missed his second consecutive contest. ... Marner needs three points in the regular-season finale Friday against Boston to become the fourth player in franchise history to reach the century mark, joining Matthews, Darryl Sittler and Doug Gilmour.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2022.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press