By Neil Becker
With all due respect to Edmonton Oilers Leon Draisaitl and New York Rangers Chris Kreider, it seemed only a matter of time before the defending Rocket Richard trophy winner Auston Matthews moved into the NHL lead.
Matthews, who has scored 29 goals in his past 31 games, has been the absolute model of goal-scoring consistency this year. His latest accomplishment came on Thursday night when at Scotiabank Arena he had a two-goal performance, including his now league-leading 36th goal which came in a 3-1 win against the Minnesota Wild.
Another key ingredient was the bounce-back performance from Leafs back-up goalie Petr Mrazek who stopped 29 shots, including 13 in the third, where he made numerous highlight-reel stops.
As all Leafs fans know it was a bad week for the blue and white not only on the ice but off where first they put veteran rugged defenceman Jake Muzzin on long term Injured Reserve before a few days later hearing the devastating news about their 2020 first-round prospect Rodion Amirov having a brain tumor.
Minnesota who came into action having won one of their past four, grabbed early momentum when at 8:37 of the second, Matt Boldy delivered a tape-to-tape pass to Frederick Gaudreau who scored his sixth of the season to make it a 1-0 game. From that point, it was Matthews who took center stage starting when he rushed up ice
and eventually scored on his signature snapshot which came at the 9:04 mark and it a brand new game heading to the third.
Halfway through the third with overtime looking like a possibility, Matthews once again came through as he converted at 10:22 on a nice 2 on 1 break with good friend Mitch Marner. This was the goal which not only put the Leafs ahead to stay but also gave Matthews the league lead with 36.
Late in regulation Minnesota was pressing as they pulled goalie Kaapo Kahkonen but ti no avail as Leafs forward Alex Kerfoot scored his eighth into an open net with only
42 seconds remaining to seal a much-needed Toronto win.
The Leafs will next play on Friday night at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit with a 7:30 p.m. puck drop against the Red Wings.