Maple Leafs' Matthews scores 50th goal in 54th game, fastest to mark in 28 years

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) is congratulated after scoring his 50th goal of the season, against the Arizona Coyotes during the first period of an NHL hockey game Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2024, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

TEMPE, Ariz. – Auston Matthews scored his 50th and 51st goals of the season Wednesday night in the Toronto Maple Leafs star's hometown return, breaking a tie as the fastest U.S.-born player to reach 50 goals at 54 games.

Matthews scored the milestone goal on a power play at 5:01 of the first period in a 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

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From nearby Scottsdale, Matthews scored on a shot from the circle to the left of goaltender Karel Vejmelka to make it 2-0. Mitchell Marner and Timothy Liljegren assisted on the goal that came with Michael Carcone in the penalty box for slashing.

“We had a couple of power plays and were kind of able to snap it around. I just tried to get open and (Marner’s) got the puck and he’s got a great sense of where I am on the ice and vice versa,” Matthews said. “We just try to push ourselves to be the best that we can be individually and the best teammates we can be.”

Matthews added his 51st — giving him 350 career goals in 535 games — late in the second period for a 4-2 lead en route to Toronto's fifth straight victory.

“It’s a small step in a long season,” Matthews said. “Coming back home against a team that’s really had our number the past couple of seasons, it was just a good effort all around. It’s a great atmosphere, and it makes for a pretty fun game.

Matthews shared the previous U.S.-born mark with former Pittsburgh star Kevin Stevens at 62 games. Matthews is the fastest to 50 since Mario Lemieux since did it for Pittsburgh in 50 games in 1995-96. Wayne Gretzky holds the record, scoring his 50th in his 39th game for Edmonton in 1981-82 on his way to a record 92 goals.

Matthews has nine goals in his last four games, having two consecutive hat tricks before a single goal against St. Louis on Monday night. Florida’s Sam Reinhart is second in the NHL with 39 goals.

Matthews, who had 60 goals two seasons ago to lead the NHL, making him the first to reach that mark since Steven Stamkos had 60 in 2011-12. The last players to score 70 or more in a season were Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny, who each had 76 in 1992-93.

___ AP NHL:

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