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Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Tyler Bertuzzi, right, celebrates his goal against the Washington Capitals with Max Domi and TJ Brodie during second period NHL hockey action in Toronto on March 28.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Billed as a showdown between two of the most lethal hired guns in the NHL with 11 goal-scoring crowns between them, it was instead left to Tyler Bertuzzi, a pair of fourth-line forwards and a 40-year-old defenceman to pull the offensive triggers on Thursday night.

It mattered little for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 to stay four points ahead of the hard-charging Tampa Bay Lightning in the quest to finish third in the Atlantic Division and a likely playoff date with either the Boston Bruins or Florida Panthers.

But for Toronto’s Auston Matthews, who remains mired on 59 goals as he closes in on a third Rocket Richard Trophy, and Washington’s Alex Ovechkin, who is still 46 goals from tying Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record, it was a day to recalibrate and reload for another occasion.

It wasn’t for lack of trying, though, with the pair combining for 12 shots in the game – with 10 of those belonging to Matthews.

“I mean, it looked like it,” Bertuzzi said when asked whether his linemate’s 60th goal of the season seemed destined to come Thursday. “He was shooting from everywhere. I think our last shift he had like three or four in that shift. It’s gonna come, just keep shooting.”

Given that Matthews had missed both the morning skate and Wednesday’s practice with illness, it was a game-time decision to even dress - so it’s not totally surprising that he will have to wait until at least Saturday in Buffalo to register his second 60-goal season in three years.

However, his rare bout of profligacy left something of an offensive void, allowing the so-called lesser lights to take centre stage.

Step forward noted marksman Mark Giordano, who went into the game with exactly one goal in the season.

The former captain of the Calgary Flames, back in the lineup for his first game since Feb. 29, showed his more illustrious associates exactly how it’s done, collecting a pass from Matthew Knies and wiring the puck over the shoulder of Washington goaltender Charlie Lindgren for his second of the campaign. It proved an emotional moment for the Toronto native, too, with Giordano pointing to the sky after scoring his first goal since his father died last month.

“[It’s] something I promised I would do after my dad passed away there if I scored,” he said afterwards. “The way it was going it didn’t look like it might happen but it was nice to get that one.”

The defenceman also made a little history with his marker, becoming at 40 years and 177 days the second-oldest defencemen to score a goal in Leafs history behind Allan Stanley.

“You can take those stats either way,” Giordano joked. “You can feel old about them or you feel like it’s a good accomplishment. I like to think it means you’ve been around for a long time and you’ve played at a high level for a long time.”

The same could be said of Ovechkin, who at 38 years old was named the NHL’s first star of the week on Monday after seven goals and one assist in eight games.

Given his two goals against the Maple Leafs last week – to say nothing of the 846 other NHL goals he has scored – much of the pre-game talk naturally revolved around the Great 8. Leafs winger Nicholas Robertson recalled getting booed for wearing a Sidney Crosby jersey while watching the Pittsburgh Penguins play Ovechkin’s Capitals in Washington when he was younger.

Meanwhile, Max Domi called the Russian winger “the best ever to do it.” He has a point. Short of an unlikely playoff matchup, by the time Ovechkin and the Capitals return to Toronto next season, depending on the vagaries of next year’s schedule, he may have knocked in the 47 goals he needs to surpass Gretzky atop the league’s goal-scoring summit.

Jake McCabe, one of the Leafs charged with stopping Ovie from continuing that chase Thursday night, said that it’s likely just a matter of time.

“He’s scored as many goals as he has for a reason,” he said. “I think if people had figured it out they’d have probably stopped it by now.”

After outshooting the Capitals 19-9 in the first, Bertuzzi wasted little time doubling Toronto’s lead in the second, cashing in after just 18 seconds. The first-line winger received the puck from TJ Brodie behind the goal line, and banked the puck in off Lindgren’s pad for his 17th goal, with Matthews grabbing the secondary assist.

And after Washington’s fourth-line centre Nic Dowd had sliced the lead in half with a tip-in to spoil Joseph Woll’s shutout bid, Toronto’s fourth line imposed itself on the scoresheet. David Kampf and Ryan Reaves conspired to set up Connor Dewar, who backhanded in his first goal as a Maple Leaf since coming over from the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline.

“It has to be one of my favourite goals of the season,” said head coach Sheldon Keefe of the play that saw all three linemates contributing to a valuable marker that once again put Toronto ahead by two goals.

With their playoff hopes hanging by a thread – the Caps went into the game occupying the last wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference – the onus was on Washington to play on the front foot in the third period. Instead it was the Leafs who came out determined to put the game on ice. Bobby McMann did the honours, one-timing home a pass from John Tavares that found its way into the net via the shin of defenceman Nick Jensen.

But they don’t ask how, they ask how many. And for McMann, it was his 14th of the season.

Bertuzzi wrapped up the scoring just past the halfway point of the third period, pouncing on a poor clearance and firing it past Lindgren for his 18th goal of the year, and sixth in his past seven games.

“I have no idea,” Bertuzzi said when asked about his recent hot streak. “I’ve been doing kind of the same thing and just getting lucky.”

Woll took the win for Toronto, its fourth in a row over Washington, with 24 saves. Lindgren had 43 saves in a losing effort.

The Maple Leafs now head to Buffalo, where they lock horns with the Sabres on Saturday night, before returning home to face the Panthers on Monday.

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