Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal...

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal with defenseman Timothy Liljegren (37), center Max Domi (11) and defenseman Joel Edmundson (20) during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Wednesday, March 20, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

WASHINGTON — Auston Matthews still gets excited about facing Alex Ovechkin, one of his favorite players growing up. And even with Ovechkin authoring a vintage performance, Matthews found a way to steal the spotlight.

Matthews scored his NHL-leading 56th and 57th goals of the season and matched his career high with five points, leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to a 7-3 rout of the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night despite Ovechkin moving closer to Wayne Gretzky. Meanwhile, Matthews' pursuit of the first 70-goal in more than three decades is back on track.

“When the world’s best are going at it like that, it’s always fun to watch,” Leafs forward Bobby McMann said. “Nice that we came out on the right side of it, but yeah it’s cool to see.”

Ovechkin scored goals 844 and 845 of his career to move 50 back of breaking Gretzky's record that long seemed unapproachable. He's now at 23 this season after scoring 15 goals since Jan. 22 to make up for just eight in his first 43 games.

“We’re all kind of running out of words to describe it," Matthews said. "He’s the greatest goal-scorer of all-time, so it’s always fun to play against him still and still watch him get it done and the excitement and passion he gets when he scores goals. Obviously, we’d like to see him not score against us, but when you’re that good, you’re bound to get opportunities and he makes good on them most of the time.”

Matthews scoring twice — with a third, would-be hat trick goal getting called back on a coach's challenge for offside — put him eight away from tying Ovechkin's career-best season of 65 from 2007-08, which is the highest since the league's salary cap era began in 2005.

“Obviously, we had zero answer for No. 34 tonight,” Capitals coach Spencer Carbery said, referring to Matthews' jersey number.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal...

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Washington Capitals, Wednesday, March 20, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

And while Ovechkin and Matthews combined for four goals in a showcase of the best scorer of this generation and perhaps his successor, they were far from the only ones lightning the lamp. Connor McMichael also scored for Washington, and William Nylander, Jake McCabe, McMann, Tyler Bertuzzi and John Tavares had Toronto's other goals in a nice bounce-back from a 4-3 loss Tuesday night at Philadelphia.

“We found a way to answer it as a group, and I thought everyone did a great job of that from the first shift,” said Max Domi, who had four assists. "Had everyone going, and we’re a tough team to beat when we play like that.”

As part of a high-event, quick scoring hockey game that was not friendly to the goaltenders, Joseph Woll made 18 saves in net for the Leafs and Charlie Lindgren made 22 for the Capitals, who failed to move back into a playoff position with their winning streak ending at three. They sit one point back of Detroit for the second and final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“Nobody said it's going to be easy,” Ovechkin said.

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battles for the...

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) battles for the puck against Washington Capitals defenseman Martin Fehervary (42) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, March 20, 2024, in Washington. Credit: AP/Nick Wass

The Caps lost while playing without injured winger T.J. Oshie and forward Aliaksei Protas. Toronto enforcer Ryan Reaves was also out after being poked in the right eye during a fight Tuesday night in Philadelphia, while veteran defenseman T.J. Brodie was a healthy scratch.

UP NEXT

Maple Leafs: Host Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday night.

Capitals: Face longtime center Evgeny Kuznetsov for the first time Friday night when he and the Carolina Hurricanes visit Friday night.

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.