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What Auston Matthews is Doing is Special

Auston Matthews did something only two other players have done in his lifetime: score 60 goals in a season. Next up? A pressure-packed playoffs, and now's the time for him to step it up when it really matters.
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Special. 

The first word that comes to mind watching Auston Matthews. A star in a city that needed one. A positive for a fanbase fighting negative after negative.

Auston Matthews is a superhero in the 6ix. And on Tuesday evening, they've never cheered louder for him.

"MVP! MVP! MVP!". Not once, not twice. Through thick and thin, they've shown incredible support for No. 34. 

What Matthews did on Tuesday was something no Leaf has ever done before -- scoring 60 in a single season. Only two players, Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, have done it since Matthews was born in 1997. For a franchise over a century old, it's crazy it took this long.

But Matthews is no ordinary player. In a world with Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, Matthews has managed to stand out in a market that often cannibalizes its own. It's hard to thrive for a Canadian city, let alone one with the history of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Forget the city. Forget the pressure. Hitting 60 goals, given how rare it is, will always make you a strong candidate for the Hart Trophy. And while McDavid and Draisaitl are still playing out of this world, the case for Matthews is strong. 

"I know I'm being biased here, but to me, it's not close," Leafs captain John Tavares said. "Just the way he goes about it, the way he does it consistently, you continue to shake your head at times. Just his ability to stay with it and play his game. He wants to be a difference-maker here."

Sixty goals is a huge personal achievement, but you play hockey to win the Stanley Cup. And since Matthews entered the NHL in 2016-17, he, nor the Leafs, have made it out of the first round. The Leafs hold home-ice advantage to kick things, and the pressure is high to perform. With Toronto thriving in a tough Eastern Conference battle this year, it's going to be a challenge to overcome a team like Tampa Bay and finally advance to the second round for the first time in the salary cap era.

Matthews will be the first to tell you all he cares about is winning a championship. Toronto has become synonymous with first-round failure. At a point, that needs to change, and Matthews is going to have to be a big piece of that.

But first, just go back and think about one stat from above: only two active players have hit 60. And they've only done it once each. McDavid? Nope. Draisaitl? Not yet. Pastrnak. Crosby. Malkin. Kucherov. All superstars, none of them have done it. It's such a rare thing in today's NHL. A 60-goal season wasn't out of the ordinary at a time when goaltending was so much different than it was now. Goalies are more prepared and better than ever. 

So getting 50 is a big deal. Sixty? Even bigger. And he has missed eight games with one more to go. Think about how many he could have finished with had he not been injured. Or last year, when he had 41 goals in 52 games. That would have been another 60-goal season, too. Matthews is only 24, and only getting better each season. Just how far can he take it?

Matthews could very well add a Hart Trophy to go along with his upcoming Rocket Richard. If you value absurd goal counts over crazy total points, you could easily make the case that Matthews is the top choice. 

But, in reality, all he cares about is playoff success. He, like the rest of the team, would love to finally shake that monkey off their back, and it won't be easy. Regular season goal totals are nice, but playoff goals are so much better. And that's where he still falls short.

But with the way Matthews is playing now, I'd hate to be the defender matched up against him.

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