Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews scores 44th goal, keeps pace in Rocket Richard Trophy race

Playing in arguably one of their biggest games of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs needed their stars to shine Thursday — and their biggest star did just that.

Rocket Richard Trophy candidate Auston Matthews knocked in his 44th goal of the season in a hotly contested, back-and-forth battle with the Panthers in Florida. The marker knotted the game 3-3 in the first period and capped a two-goal comeback by the Leafs with just over a minute left in the opening frame.

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Matthews started the play with a dump-and-chase, tracked down the puck behind the goal line and threw a hit on MacKenzie Weegar that kept him out of the play. He then got the puck to Mitchell Marner, who set up Zach Hyman — and had all four Panthers down low focusing on him. Hyman’s attempted move around netminder Sergei Bobrovsky sent the puck right to an open Matthews for the goal.

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