Auston Matthews' 70-goal season at risk; playing status uncertain

Ryan Smitheram
April 17, 2024  (1:46 PM)

Auston Matthews may not get another chance to score 70 with his status for tonight unknown
Photo credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

Auston Matthews' status for tonight's season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning is unknown as are the final rosters for both the Leafs and Bolts, which means both teams could play shorthanded.

Last night, the Toronto Maple Leafs did everything they could to get Matthews goal number 70 on the season, and while he had a couple of close calls, he remains at 69. Without scoring last night, Matthews' eight-game goal scoring streak came to an end and he may not get the opportunity to score tonight according to head coach Sheldon Keefe.
Following the loss to the Florida Panthers, Keefe was asked about Matthews playing tonight and essentially left us with more questions than answers.
"We'll talk about it. We have 12 healthy forwards."

Keefe's comment suggests the Leafs may play with less than a full complement of forwards

The Leafs played last night without Bobby McMann and Max Domi in the lineup due to injuries. At practice on Monday, Keefe revealed it was unlikely either would play until playoffs. Keefe noted that Domi does have a chance to play tonight depending how he feels, but with matchups locked up, it seems highly unlikely that they would risk a more severe injury, which is what Keefe took from last night's game.
"We want to get out of the game healthy, which it looks like we did here tonight. To that end, it's a successful night."

Given that the main goal (for the coaching staff) last night and tonight, aside from making minor adjustments is and was to ensure that everyone makes it to the playoffs healthy. As much as his teammates and fans want to see him reach 70 goals, it would be surprising if Matthews dressed tonight. If he doesn't the Leafs may roll a shortened bench with 11 forwards and 6 defensemen or use 11 forwards and 7 blueliners. That will depend on if Keefe wants to rest one of Morgan Rielly, Joel Edmundson, Timothy Liljegren, Jake McCabe and Simon Benoit as Mark Giordano, Conor Timmins and T.J. Brodie all should be in the lineup after sitting yesterday.

Lightning to rest at least one star player tonight

While the Leafs decided if Matthews will play, the Bolts are not taking any chances with Andrei Vasilevskiy. He will be backing up Matt Tomkins for tonight's game. Lightning head coach Jon Cooper also revealed that the Lightning may be forced to play short-handed with the rest of their roster due to injuries.
"We barely have enough guys to dress 20. If it doesn't go the right way in the next few hours, we are playing short. We are resting out of necessity because we've got to heal some wounds. Hopefully we can get some of these guys healthy for the weekend."

What type of game should we expect tonight?
Aside from Matthews chasing 70, Nikita Kucherov is also chasing a milestone. Kucherov is one assist shy of reaching 100 on the season. When asked about both milestones Cooper had a great response.
"If we were going to coach differently, Sheldon and I would both pull our goalie in the first five minutes and make it six on five, the stats don't go against them and just get them over with because, in the end, would anyone really remember that? Probably not, but it does make for great TV. Clearly I am pulling for 86 to get his 100th assist, what a remarkable accomplishment that would be. Then, on the other side and for 34 to be able to get 70 and to be able to say you were in the building as a fan would be super cool to see. The problem is I am the coach of the other team, and so we have to find a way to prevent that. He's done it 69 times against a whole bunch of other teams trying to prevent it, so it's hard to do so we will see what happens."

We all know that if Matthews plays, his teammates will be looking for him every opportunity they get and conversely, Kucherov's teammates will likely be trying to find open ice all game to get him that 100th assist. Given that both teams are trying to get healthy, Cooper was asked about the type of game fans could expect and he wasn't exactly sure.
"I've coached in a few of these and I don't know. They are tough to predict. Some have been nail biters and some, nobody touches each other out there."

As we have seen in the past, there are regular season finales that carry a playoff-type atmosphere where there is always a scrum or big hit and there are others that resemble the All-Star games where there is absolutely nothing going on and everyone just skates away from everything. Given that the two clubs aren't facing each other in round one this year, it wouldn't come as a surprise to see an All-Star game like intensity tonight.
17 AVRIL   |   324 ANSWERS
Auston Matthews' 70-goal season at risk; playing status uncertain

Will Matthews and Kucherov reach their milestones tonight?

Matthews yes, Kucherov no319.6 %
Matthews no, Kucherov yes19058.6 %
No to both3811.7 %
Yes to both6520.1 %
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