By catching Vaive in a hurry, Maple Leafs’ Matthews proves ‘there’s no limit’

Auston Matthews led the way with his seventh career hat trick and Mitch Marner added a goal and two assists as the Toronto Maple Leafs won their fifth straight defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2.

TAMPA – Rick Vaive would like to be in the building when Auston Matthews snaps his record.

Well, the Leafs legend might need to scramble and catch a last-minute flight to Florida, because at the rate Matthews is rolling, the torch will not wait until the end of this road trip to get passed.

“Impressive for sure, but I won’t be going on the road,” Vaive texted. “I will see him when they get back.”

Matthews ripped No. 52, tipped No. 53, and scooped No. 54 Monday, powering the streaking Toronto Maple Leafs to a 6-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

Hats rained down on enemy ice, and Vaive finally got some company in his penthouse after 40 years alone at the top.

“It means a lot to be in the same sentence as a guy like Rick Vaive and those other guys that have come before us and represent what it means to be a Toronto Maple Leaf,” Matthews said.

“Extremely humbling.”

Matthews has goals in six straight, a ridiculous 47 goals in his past 47 games, and needs but one more lamp to signal history. The Maple Leafs still have 13 games to play.

“When you have that arsenal of weapons he has, and the way he shoots, I wouldn't be surprised if some time in his career he gets 70," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That's how good of a scorer he is.

“He shoots it from his ankles. He shoots it out wide. And just the release and the velocity is big-time. Plus, he's not afraid to shoot. That's why you get 50 and 60 goals a year. You don't care. You're going to keep shooting.”

Matthews’ own coach, Sheldon Keefe, believes a number so seemingly outrageous still falls within the realm of possibility. 

"I just don't think you could ever put any sort of limitations on someone like him, with the ability that he has and the drive that he has," Keefe said. 

"It's pretty rare, obviously, to reach those [numbers], especially in this era. But there's no limit on what someone like him can do, because he's extremely driven and very talented and just seems to continue to get better."

So does the team around him.

In defeating the Lightning on their own ice, the Maple Leafs extended their win streak to five, over which they've scored 30 goals and produced convincing performances against each of their three greatest Atlantic Division rivals.

Over the past eight days, Toronto has outscored Florida, Boston, and Tampa Bay by a grand total of 17-8.

A refreshed Jack Campbell outduelled Andrei Vasilevskiy, Mitch Marner extended his multipoint streak to six games, and the valuable secondary contributions (from Alexander Kerfoot and Pierre Engvall on this night) continue to be provided.

“I feel like a proud brother, to be honest,” Marner said of Matthews’ latest feat. “We try to push each other every day.

“We’re real tight, and it’s great seeing him get rewarded out there.”

Tampa’s Steven Stamkos — the last player to hit 60, in 2011-12 — spoke Monday of how he dreaded finishing with 49 or 59, how that would haunt an athlete/

Stamkos admitted to pressing that season, and he needed to rip 10 in final nine games to do it.

"A little different situation," Stamkos noted. "We weren't as good of a team at that time as Toronto is. So, it was something where the guys were really going out of their way to [help me].”

It’s one thing to witness a tell-the-grandkids individual performance; it’s another to see it jog in unison with a team finding its best form.

“His focus remains on leading this team, and that's the best part about him. He stays humble. He just continues to work. He knows he’s a great player; he knows the goals are going to come. It’s just part of what he does for our club. he's leading our team in lots of different ways. That's what I'm most excited about,” Keefe said.

“He's forechecking. He's tracking. He's creating turnovers. He's doing all the different things that lead to goals and giving himself those opportunities to score. He does it in so many different ways that contributes to winning.

“Not just scoring — but winning."

Fox’s Fast 5

• Since Nov. 24, Engvall has scored more even-strength goals (10) than John Tavares or William Nylander (nine apiece). He burst up-ice and sniped a beauty past Vasilevskiy on the Leafs’ first shot of the night.

“He’s earned more opportunity here of late. He’s solidified himself in our top nine, and that’s allowed him to build positive momentum,” Keefe says. “He’s been playing on his toes, playing with speed.”

• Michael Bunting has drawn 40 penalties this season. Only Pierre-Luc Dubois (46) and Connor McDavid (44) has drawn more whistles. 

Last Leaf to draw 40? Nazem Kadri, who accomplished the feat thrice and holds the unofficial franchise record for most penalties drawn with 64 in 2015-16.

• Loved seeing Mark Giordano go right at Corey Perry for taking a whack at Jack Campbell’s glove. We’ve seen others let stuff like that slide. 

• Nylander missed the game due to illness but may be healthy in time for Tuesday’s match in Florida.

Erik Källgren will start in net, and Jake Muzzin is “likely” to make his return. The defenceman hasn’t played since suffering his second concussion of the year on Feb. 21.

• A fun little backstory emerged about Timothy Liljegren’s goal in Philadelphia Saturday. The defenceman revealed that he purposely missed wide on his point shot that clicked in off Carter Hart’s leg after thwacking the end-boards.

"It's probably the ugliest goal I've ever scored, but I'll take every goal I can get," Liljegren smiled.

"I tried to find a lane to the net, and someone on the bench just yelled: 'End wall!' So that's what I did. I don't know who, but they should get an assist for that."

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