Matthews’ four-point night lifts Maple Leafs over Panthers

Auston Matthews and John Tavares both scored a pair of goals to help the Toronto Maple Leafs crush the Florida Panthers.

TORONTO — Auston Matthews scored twice and set up two more for his second four-point game of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs thumped the Florida Panthers 6-1 on Thursday.

John Tavares also had two goals for Toronto (23-10-2), while Morgan Rielly had four assists for his second four-point night of 2018-19.

Mitch Marner added a goal and two assists for the Leafs. Nazem Kadri chipped in with a goal and an assist. Frederik Andersen made 25 saves.

Both Matthews and Rielly recorded the third four-point games of their careers. Matthews also notched the 18th two-goal game of his young career. Rielly is the first defenceman in the NHL to reach 40 points this season.

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Henrik Borgstrom replied for Florida (13-14-6). Roberto Luongo stopped 17-of-22 shots before getting the hook for the Panthers, who beat Toronto 4-3 in overtime at home on Saturday. James Reimer made three stops after coming on five minutes into the third period.

The Leafs announced before the game that winger Zach Hyman was out with an ankle injury suffered during Tuesday’s 7-2 victory in New Jersey. Andreas Johnsson took his place on a line with Tavares and Mitch 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 went ahead 1-0 with 1:43 left in the first period as its dormant power-play unit snapped an ugly 1-for-25 stretch.

With Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad off for interference, Marner drew all four Florida penalty killers towards 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 and Marner hooked up for a different type of performance a night earlier when they made cameo appearances as Cannon Dolls in The National Ballet of Canada’s "The Nutcracker" in front of a packed house in Toronto.

Luongo playfully tweeted after Matthews and Marner’s ballet debut that the talented 21 year olds should get Thursday off, but the veteran netminder and his teammates were out of luck.

Coming off a 2-2-1 road trip — the Leafs did come back to Toronto to practise and see family twice during that stretch — the home side nearly went ahead 2-0 early in the second, but Frederik Gauthier, who replaced Hyman in the lineup, rang a shot off the post.

But 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 in 2018-19, and is now on pace for an eye-popping 62 goals this season.

The star centre’s 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.

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 the Leafs centre eventually got his ninth, converting a pass from Brown on a 2-on-1.

Andersen wasn’t busy, but made a save off Hoffman with his mask later in the period before Jaren McCann’s tip on a power play trickled off the post and stayed out.

Matthews had a chance at the hat trick on a power play early in the third, but Luongo stopped his shot before Taveres shovelled home his 22nd from the crease at 2:38.

Tavares then added his 23rd on some horrendous Florida defending 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: Toronto hosts the New York Rangers on Saturday and then Detroit on Sunday before the Christmas break. … Florida is at Detroit on Saturday and Chicago on Sunday. … Hyman’s status will be updated after having an MRI on his ankle. … Toronto defenceman Igor Ozhiganov was a late scratch with an illness. Martin Marincin took his place after sitting out the last 17 games. … The opening goal was the first surrendered on an opposition power play by Florida in eight games to end a streak of 18 consecutive kills.

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