KANATA, Ont. – After 15 years embroiled in the Battle of Alberta, Mark Giordano finally got a taste of the NHL’s other provincial rivalry.
And, oh, how sweet it is.
Giordano accepted a beautiful 90-foot, cross-ice stretch pass from William Nylander in overtime. His 38-year-old legs chugged in with a burst on Ottawa Senators goaltender Anton Forsberg. And Giordano snapped the clock-freezer short side, a shot as clean as his shaven dome.
Giordano’s snipe capped off his three-point night and a thrilling 5-4 comeback victory for his hometown. He also became the oldest Toronto Maple Leaf in history to score in the fourth period.
“Anytime you score, it usually feels pretty good. But the game-winners are something that you always remember, for sure,” Giordano said. “It was a pretty fun game to play.”
Giordano wasn’t recruited to light lamps for his boyhood sweater. He was acquired at the trade deadline to box out the net-front, to make safe decisions in his own zone, and to smartly snap the puck up to Toronto’s elite forwards.
As coach Sheldon Keefe is fond of saying, Giordano "puts out fires." But on Saturday, he played arsonist at the other end.
To see Giordano not only set up two goals in the Leafs’ latest rally but clinch two coveted points with his blade is both a bonus and a boost.
“It's big. Those are big goals,” Keefe said. “The type of goals that get the team to really rally and celebrate. So, it's a deserving moment for a guy like him that’s just come in here and done an excellent job for us.”
Alexander Kerfoot has been a Maple Leaf long enough to know the rebuilding Senators refuse to surrender free points to their provincial rivals.
He understood the 40-point standings gap between the two clubs would not translate on the ice, no matter how many fans supporting the playoff-bound side trekked hours east along the 401 in attempt to turn Saturday into a bonus home game.
“They’ve played us well since I’ve been on this team. They’ve got a lot of skill up front. A younger team that’s playing every game down the stretch with nothing to lose,” Kerfoot said before the game.
“We know they’ll be up for it. If we’re not ready to go, they can take it to us.”
That they did in the opening period.
Sure, the Leafs controlled the run of play.
But they also failed to cash in on their power plays for the fourth consecutive game and surrendered the night’s best chance when Justin Holl and T.J. Brodie both got caught deep.
Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stützle charged the other way on a 2-on-0, and the 20-year-old German finished with flare, flying into the end glass in celebration of the night’s first strike.
“We made a dumb mistake to let them get the 2-on-0. At the time, we were carrying the play and we were in full control,” Keefe said.
A Michael Del Zotto point blast doubled the Sens lead, temporarily quieting the mostly blue and white crowd out of it.
“We don’t want to hand anyone anything,” Ottawa coach D.J. Smith said before the game. “You’re not just gonna come in and walk all over us. Our effort will be there.
“We want to be known as that – you’ll never get a freebie against us.”
Toronto rallied in a much more entertaining second period, with a trio of goals from Kyle Clifford (his first of the season), a resurgent Michael Bunting and a snipe by Mitch Marner.
Ottawa got one more from Dylan Grambrell, setting the stage at 3-3 heading into the third.
Stützle pounced on a sloppy own-zone giveaway by Ilya Lyubushkin and whipped his second past Erik Källgren to restore the lead, the sophomore’s 20th of the season.
"He's going to be a great player in this league for a long time,” Marner said.
But Marner’s second of the night — a greasy, crash-the-crease marker off his boot — tied the game again and riled the crowd, which erupted into voluminous support for the visitors.
“The ‘Go! Leafs! Go!’ chant was as strong as it gets. So, that's amazing. And that fuels us,” Bunting beamed.
It fueled Toronto through a wild fourth-period finish, punctuated by Giordano’s heroic exclamation point.
“There was a good buzz going every time you went out for shifts,” Giordano said.
“I've been really impressed with the attitude of the team. The guys, you can tell, they expect to win every night.”
Now all but cemented into the Atlantic Division’s second seed, the Maple Leafs will zip home to play the second half of their Easter weekend back-to-back Sunday against the lottery-bound New York Islanders.
Fox’s Fast 5
• Former Islanders captain John Tavares said Mike Bossy (rest in peace) was a tremendous person and was of great support to him, particularly in his first few years in the Show.
“(He) just loved the game and loved to talk hockey and, specifically, goal scoring,” Tavares recalled. “If not the best, he was one of the best at it and was part of one of the best dynasties in NHL history and had a remarkable career.
“It was cool for me to talk to him about what made him a great player and how he saw the game. Those are the things that you cherish most and that always stick with you.”
• The Maple Leafs’ power play has been blanked in its past 17 opportunities, with a shorthanded goal against.
“Last three games (it) hasn't been good, but before that we were running at 42 per cent over an eight-game segment,” Keefe countered. “Let's not get too carried away with it not going well for a little bit.”
• A smiling William Nylander at least has a sense of humour about his career-worst and team-worst dash-14: “I was joking with some of the guys. I say, 'If you guys want a minus, come play with me.’”
• Senators coach D.J. Smith is flattered to hear his name kicked around as a candidate to be behind Team Canada’s bench at next month’s world championships in Finland.
“If I can get the opportunity, I’ll certainly be available,” Smith said. “We’ll see what happens here. I’ve never been to the world championships.”
• Keefe and Raptors head coach Nick Nurse were texting playoff well wishes to each other Friday. They stay in touch, and Keefe uses Nurse as a resource for coaching in this market.
“It's definitely an exciting time to be a sports fan in Toronto, no question,” said Keefe, who’s also keeping tabs on the Blue Jays.
“There's been lots of reasons for us to pay attention and follow along and try to learn what we can from (the Raptors), but also just to see the excitement they've been able to generate for our city.”