By Judy Owen, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Auston Matthews credited hard work and consistency for scoring his NHL-leading 40th goal of the season and reaching a special milestone in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday.
Matthews’ power-play goal in the third period was the game-winner and gave him 600 career points, the fastest Leaf to reach that point mark in his 527th career game.
“I’m just trying to stay consistent, trying to work every night,” Matthews said.
“I don’t think tonight was necessarily our best game as a line, but I just thought we stayed patient. Just try to stay with it, get an opportunity on the power play and make good on it.”
The Leafs extended their win streak to three games.
The Jets, who lost their third consecutive game (0-2-1), registered their third sellout of the season at Canada Life Centre, but plenty of the 15,225 fans were wearing Leafs jerseys and chanting for the visitors.
Ryan Reaves, John Tavares and Simon Benoit, with an empty-net goal, also scored for the Leafs (25-14-8). Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly each contributed a pair of assists.
Defenceman Dylan Samberg scored his first goal of the season for the Jets (30-12-5) and Mason Appleton added a late marker.
Connor Hellebuyck made 26 saves for Winnipeg, which has lost four of its past six games (2-3-1) since running up an eight-game win streak.
Tavares used Toronto’s first power play of the game to tip in a Rielly shot at 1:54 of the third period and record his 13th goal of the season. Tavares had gone a career-high nine games without a point, plus he hadn’t scored in 10 games.
“You just stay with it and know it’s going to come, so obviously nice to get it at a crucial point in the game and to give us the lead,” said Tavares, whose goal snapped a 1-1 tie.
Ilya Samsonov, who was in net for Toronto’s 1-0 overtime shutout against the Jets on Wednesday, stopped 24 shots.
“He was really good here tonight. Not just battling, but looking confident,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said of Samsonov.
The Jets went 0-for-4 on the power play and Toronto was 2-for-3.
“We’re getting some really good looks on it. We’ve got to score on those opportunities and we’re just not doing it,” Winnipeg head coach Rick Bowness said.
The Jets scored on their first shot of the game when Samberg beat Samsonov with a shot from the point at 4:13.
Samberg, who hadn’t scored in 76 games dating back to Jan. 12, 2023, pretended to toss a monkey off his back as he skated to the bench.
“Good to score but still lost,” Samberg said. “That part sucks, but obviously good to get a goal.”
Reaves, playing his first game since Dec. 14, tipped in Noah McGregor’s shot to tie it with 51 seconds left in the opening period.
Leafs forward Tyler Bertuzzi appeared to score with 19.3 seconds remaining, but it was waved off after a successful challenge for goaltender interference.
Winnipeg veteran defenceman Brenden Dillon left the ice midway through the first and didn’t return. Bowness said he “tweaked” his back.
Toronto outshot the Jets 8-7 in the first period and held a 10-1 margin after the first seven minutes of the second.
The second frame started with some scrambly plays, including Hellebuyck stopping one shot while in a sitting position with his legs straight out.
Samsonov later denied quick, close-in shots by a trio of Jets.
“That was a hard game for us,” Samsonov said. “Probably the best defensive team playing against us today.”
The Jets got a pair of power plays in the final seven minutes of the frame. They had one shot in their first man advantage, but during their second one Samsonov stopped a blast from Kyle Connor and Josh Morrissey hit the post.
Matthews scored from the high slot at 15:28 and Benoit recorded his first goal of the season into the empty net at 18:22.
Jets forward Mason Appleton added one for the home crowd with 12 seconds remaining.
“I think the best thing is a little mental reset,” Winnipeg captain Adam Lowry said. “I think this is kind of one of the first blocks of adversity we’ve faced this year.”
Matthews extended his goal streak to three games and his point streak to six games (seven goals, three assists). … Toronto has won its past five games against Winnipeg, outscoring the Jets 20-7 through those contests. … Jets top-line centre Mark Scheifele was held out of his sixth straight game to take advantage of the upcoming player and all-star break in his recovery from a lower-body injury.
Leafs: Hosts the New York Islanders on Feb. 5.
Jets: Visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 6.