Matthews scores 40th goal of the season, Leafs use early barrage to down Habs 5-2

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Auston Matthews scored his league-leading 40th goal of the season as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Montreal Canadiens 5-2 on Thursday night.

Mitch Marner and John Tavares, with a goal and an assist each, Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall also scored for Toronto (34-13-6). Jack Campbell made 20 saves for the North Division leaders. Jake Muzzin added two assists.

Campbell improved his record to 16-2-2, giving him the most wins by a Maple Leafs goaltender through 20 games in a season.

Cole Caufield and Artturi Lehkonen replied for Montreal (24-20-9). Cayden Primeau allowed four goals on 15 shots in the opening 20 minutes before being replaced by Jake Allen to start the second. He finished with 19 saves.

The Leafs improved to 6-2-1 against the Canadiens in 2021 after falling 3-2 in overtime to Montreal at the Bell Centre on Monday.

The teams, which appear likely to meet in the first round of playoffs, will conclude their 10-game regular-season series Saturday back at Scotiabank Arena.

Montreal had a chance to clinch a playoff spot Thursday, and still trails the Winnipeg Jets by two points for third in the division with three games left on its schedule. Winnipeg, which clinched a post-season berth Wednesday, has four home dates left on the docket before the start of the playoffs.

Matthews, who has scored 40 times in 49 games, has found the back of the net in five straight contests. He also has a five-game goal streak against Montreal.

Only one player in Leafs history has reached 40 goals in fewer games, with Frank Mahovlich hitting the mark in 48 games in 1960-61.

The 23-year-old also has the most goals through 49 games of a campaign since Pavel Bure scored 40 in 48 back in 1999-00 with the Florida Panthers.

Toronto was minus injured forwards Zach Hyman (knee) and Nick Foligno (upper-body), as well as defenceman Zach Bogosian (shoulder), but got blue-liner Justin Holl (face) back after he missed Monday’s loss.

Tomas Tatar (lower-body) returned to the lineup for Montreal following a five-game absence, but the Canadiens were still without starting goalie Carey Price (concussion), captain Shea Weber (upper-body), forward Paul Byron (lower-body) and winger Jonathan Drouin (personal).

The Leafs opened the scoring just 16 seconds into the first period when Galchenyuk whipped a backhand from the slot past Primeau for his fifth goal of the season — and first against the team that drafted him third overall in 2012.

Playing the second of a back-to-back following Wednesday’s 5-1 loss in Ottawa to the Senators that snapped its three-game winning streak, Montreal went down 2-0 at 3:24 when Tavares picked up a rebound to bury his 18th after Phillip Danault turned the puck over.

Engvall then got in on the action at 10:38 off the rush by scoring his fifth after Primeau made the initial save as Toronto scored on three of its first eight shots on Montreal’s rookie third-string goaltender.

Marner continued the onslaught with 2:39 left in the period when the seas parted in the offensive zone and he deked around a helpless Primeau before backhanding his 19th from below the goal line as Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot tried desperately in vain to keep the puck from entering Montreal’s net.

Allen replaced Primeau to start the second, and the visitors came close to getting one back on an early power play, but Justin Holl cleared a loose puck off Campbell’s line.

Toronto appeared to go up 5-0 midway through the period only to have Ilya Mikheyev’s one-timer waved off because Stefan Noesen, who was making his Leafs debut, was in Allen’s crease.

Montreal finally got on the board with 6:30 left in the period when Caufield scored his third — he buried the OT winner against Campbell in Montreal on Monday — off a pass from Corey Perry after Toronto defenceman Rasmus Sandin had his pocket picked.

Lehkonen scored his sixth on a rebound to make it 4-2 just 3:04 into the third before the Canadiens got a power play when Galchenyuk was whistled for high-sticking, but Toronto killed off the penalty despite some tense moments in front of Campbell.

Matthews then put things to bed after taking a pass from Marner and beating Allen at 15:41.

Notes: Danault didn’t return to the game after the first period with an undisclosed injury. … Frederik Andersen stopped 12-of-14 shots Thursday afternoon in just over 30 minutes of action with the Toronto Marlies as part of his conditioning stint in the American Hockey League. The Leafs’ No. 1 goalie hasn’t played with the big club since March 19 because of a knee-related injury. … Noesen was acquired from the San Jose Sharks prior to last month’s trade deadline.

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press