Watch: Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews becomes fastest 50-goal scorer in 28 years

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews scored 51 goals through 54 appearances this season. File Photo by Alex Edelman/UPI

Feb. 22 (UPI) -- Auston Matthews smacked down a pass in the right circle, placed the puck on his blade tape and whipped a shot into the left side of the net to become the fastest player to score 50 goals in an NHL season in 28 years.

The veteran forward scored the goal 5:01 into the first period of the Toronto Maple Leafs' 6-3 victory over the Arizona Coyotes on Wednesday at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Ariz. The 2021-22 Hart Trophy (NHL MVP) winner scored again in the second period of his 54th game of the season.

"It's a small step in a long season," Matthews told reporters. "Playing at home against a team that's really had our number over the last couple seasons, it was a good win, with good effort throughout the lineup with everybody contributing."

With his first goal, Matthews also became the fastest U.S.-born player to score 50 goals in a season, beating former Pittsburgh Penguins forward Kevin Stevens' mark of 62 games from 1992-93. Matthews also reached that total in 62 games during his 2021-22 season.

Hockey icon Wayne Gretzky owns the record as the fastest player to reach 50 goals in a single season. Gretzky reached the total in 39 games during his 1981-82 campaign with the Edmonton Oilers. He went on to score a record 92 times that season.

Matthews is the fastest to reach the mark since Penguins legend Mario Lemieux scored 50 through his first 50 games during the 1995-96 season.

Defensemen Timothy Liljegren and T.J. Brodie assisted forward Bobby McMann for the first goal of Wednesday's game 1:56 into the first period.

Matthews beat Coyotes net minder Karel Vejmelka for a second time about three minutes later. Forward Mitch Marner fired the puck in front of the goal at the start of that exchange. Matthews then sent a pass to Lilegren, who passed back to the forward.

Matthews drifted inside the back of the circle before ripping his shot into the net for his 50th score.

Forward William Nylander scored his 30th goal of the season about 10:26 later for the Maple Leafs. The Coyotes tightened the game when forwards Matias Maccelli and Barrett Hayton each scored within the first six minutes of the second period.

Matthews then beat Vejmelka for a fourth time with just 3:53 remaining in the period. Marner sent the puck flying in front of the net to spark that exchange. Matthews finished the play by using his blade to knock the puck out of the air and into the net.

Coyotes forward Dylan Gunther made the score 4-3 with a power-play goal with just seven seconds left in the second period, but Nylander and forward John Tavares each scored for the Maple Leafs in the third to secure the victory.

Matthews, 26, led the NHL with 41 and 60 goals during his respective 2020 and 2021 campaigns. He scored 40 times in 74 games last season.

The Maple Leafs star logged 24 assists, in addition to the 51 scores, through his 54 appearances in 2023-24. He started a league-high 51 games so far this season.

"He's obviously a special player," Marner said of Matthews. "We are lucky to have him. He was in his hometown [nearby Scottsdale], with a lot of people here and a lot of loved ones. To get it here was pretty special."

The Maple Leafs (31-16-8) will battle the Vegas Golden Knights (32-18-6) at 10 p.m. EST Thursday in Las Vegas.