Matthews, Tavares help Maple Leafs rout Panthers 6-1
TORONTO (AP) — Roberto Luongo joked on Twitter after Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner made celebrity cameo appearances in a production of “The Nutcracker” that Toronto’s dynamic duo deserved the night off.
No such luck for the goalie and his Florida teammates.
Matthews had two goals and two assists, and John Tavares also scored twice to help the Maple Leafs rout the Panthers 6-1 on Thursday night.
“We hadn’t been good enough lately,” Matthews said. “Even against these guys last Saturday in Florida (a 4-3 overtime loss) we were terrible. It’s good to get back on track.”
Matthews had his second four-point game of the season, as did Morgan Rielly with four assists. Mitch Marner added a goal and two assists, Nazem Kadri had a goal and an assist, and Frederik Andersen made 25 saves.
“We started on time,” Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. “We did things the way you should.”
Matthews had the 18th two-goal game of his career.
“At times he makes it look easy and this league definitely is not easy,” Tavares said about the 1-year-old Matthews. “To do it at this level that consistently is a testament to his skill set and his attention to detail. No question he’s got one of the best shots in the game.”
Rielly is the first NHL defenseman to reach 40 points this season.
Henrik Borgstrom scored for Florida, and Roberto Luongo stopped 17 shots before getting the hook early in the third period.
“After about the first 10 minutes, it was just a good hockey team playing a team that didn’t look very good,” Florida coach Bob Boughner said. “We had too many passengers. If you don’t have 20 guys all playing the same way, you can get blown out.”
The Leafs announced before the game that winger Zach Hyman was out with an ankle injury suffered Tuesday night in a 7-2 victory in New Jersey. Andreas Johnsson took his place on a line with Tavares and Marner, while Connor Brown was elevated to the third unit with Kadri and William Nylander.
After the teams traded a number of chances early, Toronto opened the scoring with 1:43 left in the first period as its dormant power-play unit snapped a 1-for-25 stretch.
With Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad off for interference, Marner drew all four Florida penalty killers toward him before whipping a cross-ice pass to Matthews, who made no mistake into the open side of the net past Luongo for his 18th goal of the season and a team-high seventh with the man advantage.
Marner’s assist was also the 125th of his career to pass Vincent Damphousse for the most by a Leafs player before age 22.
Matthews put Toronto up two when he took another cross-ice feed, this time from Rielly, and buried his 19th off the camera inside Luongo’s net at 3:50. Matthews, who missed 14 games with a shoulder injury, was playing for just the 21st time this season.
Kadri had a goal taken off the board five minutes later after it was ruled following video review that he had kicked the puck over the line, but eventually got his ninth, converting a pass from Brown on a 2 on 1.
Matthews had a chance at the hat trick on a power play early in the third, but Luongo stopped his shot before Taveres put in his 22nd from the crease at 2:38. Tavares added his 23rd off a pass from Marner at 5:41.
Borgstrom got a consolation goal, his first of the year, for the Panthers on a power play at 10:28 through a screen.
Marner then banked a shot of a Florida defender on another man advantage at 15:14 for his 10th.
NOTES: Matthews’ 18 two-goal games ranks him second behind only Alex Ovechkin’s 19 since Matthews entered the league in 2016-17. Matthews has just one hat trick in his career, which came in a four-goal outburst against Ottawa in his first NHL game. ... Hyman’s status will be updated after having an MRI on his ankle. ... Toronto defenseman Igor Ozhiganov was a late scratch with an illness. Martin Marincin took his place after sitting out the last 17 games.
Panthers: At Detroit on Saturday night.
Maple Leafs: Host New York Rangers on Saturday night.