Maple Leafs' most senior trio defy time with flash of well-aged brilliance

Watch as Jason Spezza, Wayne Simmonds, and Mark Giordano link up to become the oldest tandem to score a goal this season as a collective 109 years.

TORONTO — Three 1,000-game players.

Three locals.

One vintage game-winning goal.

The game itself was hardly a memorable one, but the moment certainly was.

Wayne Simmonds (age 33) cut to the slot on the rush, pivoted to face his joining rushers and backed in Philadelphia Flyers defender Keith Yandle.

Simmonds laid the puck back to linemate Jason Spezza (age 38), who operated a pristine give-and-go with an activated Mark Giordano (age 38) and popped one past a scrambly Martin Jones.

“It was a beautiful goal. I loved it. I mean, it was a nice tic-tac-toe play. Simmer and then Spezz to Gio and back to Spezz back door,” William Nylander smiled.

“That was awesome,” Jack Campbell added. “Big goal in the hockey game, too. They put so much heart into every game, it’s nice to see them rewarded.”




A crystallization of three divergent paths springing from the same city, winding askew through a dozen NHL sweaters and 3,278 regular-season matches, and intersecting right back where their deferred Stanley Cup dream all began: Toronto.

“It's great that we're all here, and we all care deeply about this organization and the team, the city,” said Spezza, following Tuesday’s 5-2 victory over the floundering Flyers.

“We're here to provide leadership and also good play on the ice. You know, I think us more than anyone feels the pride of being from Toronto and knowing what's at stake to try to bring success in the playoffs to this city.”

The three most senior Toronto Maple Leafs — local boys men and late-addition banner chasers all — combined for a goal that was 111 years and two weeks in the making.

Sure, add up the ages of principals involved in a scoring sequence, and 111 might be commonplace at a 10:30 p.m. men's league run at Chesswood on a Monday night. But it's something else primetime at Scotiabank Arena.

It’s the oldest scoring sequence of 2021-22 leaguewide, and the most wizened in Leafland since Ron Francis (41) was set up by Brian Leetch (37) and Calle Johansson (37) in 2004.

Something else of significance occurred in 2004: The Maple Leafs won their most recent playoff series.

Francis, now GM of the Seattle Kraken, traded Giordano to the Maple Leafs, who are a remarkable 12-2-1 since the defenceman pulled on his boyhood colours at the deadline.

Spezza hasn’t really learned anything new about Giordano.

Heck, he’s been playing against the guy since they were 10- or 11-year-olds battling in the mecca's minor hockey circuits. As pros, they’d share some summer skates up close and mutual respect from afar.

“Now getting a chance to play together is pretty neat for us. He's a guy that where he's come from, how hard he works, he's gotten better. He’s in the same mould as a guy like Big Z [Zdeno Chara], where he's changed his game throughout the years. And his game stands the test of time because of it,” Spezza said.

“Getting to play together, it's nice. We can have some laughs and enjoy our time together. But also we're trying to push this team forward. So, great guy to add and kind of cool for us since we played against each other for so long as kids.”

These are the flashes, the nuggets, that can make an otherwise ho-hum win worth tuning into.

Because let’s be real.

Toronto is a virtual lock in Atlantic Division’s second seed, too good to get tagged from behind and too far behind to touch the runaway Florida Panthers.

As for Philadelphia? Well, to put it gently, it’s a squandered year.

For very different reasons, these clubs are skating out the string, trying to keep healthy for the post-season or golf season.

What Tuesday’s exhibition-like affair did offer, however, were milestones.

Leaf fans could revel in the excellent individual campaigns of Mitch Marner, who set a fresh career-high in points (95) and crept within reach of the triple-digit club, and William Nylander, who snapped his personal-best 32nd goal of the year.

Rookie defenceman Timothy Liljegren lasered the Leafs’ opening strike, beating Jones high-glove from distance, and further cementing his case to be Giordano’s right-side partner for Game 1.

Toronto is saving its A-game, which is fine. The team didn’t need it against these broken Flyers.

A couple of new moves by the old guys did the trick.

“We're guys that have had established careers, and we're not scared of the moment. I look forward to it. That’s why I play the game. You go through 82 games to get to the playoffs. And those are the moments that I think I can help the most,” Spezza said.

“I played in Canada most of my career. I enjoy it. I love the pressure-cooker atmosphere and the daily drive. I think it's driven me throughout my career at times, to reinvent yourself, to change your game. And you can’t have two bad nights in a row, or else you hear about it. That's a great thing.”

This is the time of year where preparation pays off, where purpose sharpens into focus. Particularly if you’re wise enough to understand you only have so many cracks left.

“For me, it means a lot to play for the Leafs and to play at home and to help push this team, hopefully, over the edge,” Spezza said.

“I don’t know if the goal puts it in perspective. But just every day I walk in the room, I know what my job is here — and I know what I have to do.”

Fox’s Fast 5

• The Maple Leafs are a sparkling 11-2-0 in their past 13 games with Auston Matthews out of the lineup.

With Matthews sidelined and the dishevelled Flyers in town, Keefe went full mad scientist with his forward lines Tuesday:

Mikheyev — Tavares — Blackwell

Engvall — Kerfoot — Nylander

Bunting — Abruzzese — Marner

Simmonds — Kämpf — Spezza

• The Islanders’ Mathew Barzal was fined $2,500 for unsportsmanlike conduct for this sweater pull of Mitch Marner during Toronto’s win Sunday:

"Hopefully he gets fined for that. That would be great," Marner said during his intermission interview, flashing a smile.

“He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s a competitor out there…. It’s a pretty funny moment.”

• The Leafs are hesitant to place a timeline on Ondrej Kase’s return from his latest concussion, but it was heartening to see the winger running through drills with a small group of teammates Tuesday morning. He won’t travel on the upcoming road trip, but he’s hit the ice four or five days in a row and is trending the right way for a hopeful playoff appearance.

“He’s in good spirits,” Keefe said. “The more positive days he can have, then we'll start to look at it and think about it.”

• Rasmus Sandin, the other Leaf on LTIR, hasn’t played for a month and counting since injuring his knee in Nashville, but he went through two drill sessions Tuesday and looks to be ramping up for a return.

The defenceman won’t travel this weekend either, but he’s possible to draw in against Detroit and/or Boston next week, Toronto’s final two games of the season.

• Both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, Toronto’s two possible Round 1 opponents, sent scouts to take in the game. We’re almost at the good stuff, folks.

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