The 37-year-old Spezza's role since signing with his hometown team prior to last season is a far cry from when he entered the league as a dominant center picked No. 2 in the 2001 NHL draft by the Ottawa Senators. But, he's endeared himself to the Leafs' young core as a veteran presence, sounding board and solid contributor capable of moving up and down the lineup.
''He means a lot to this team, I think more than anybody knows,'' Auston Matthews said. ''That was fun to watch. That was vintage Jason Spezza. He put on a show. He deserves it. He works so hard.
''At this stage in his career, the dedication that he pours into his own game, into the team ... to see a guy like him get rewarded and put on a show like he did, that was pretty incredible.''
The only thing missing from Spezza's hat trick was the ice being littered with hats. But no fans were in the arena due to the pandemic.
''I got a bit of a water shower walking in the room, the guys got me good,'' Spezza said. ''The puck was following me. I haven't had too many of those nights the last couple years.''
Spezza said he is still searching for hockey's ultimate prize.
''The game's been good to me,'' he said. ''I'm still chasing the Cup. That's what keeps me driving. Just coming to the rink and being part of a team, I don't think you ever replicate the bond you have with teammates. There's ups and downs and trials and tribulations, but you always have each other's back.
''That's pretty special stuff. You don't get that unless you're playing.''
Matthews scored twice, Mitch Marner added a goal and a pair of assists, and John Tavares scored for Toronto, which got 16 saves from Frederik Andersen.
William Nylander added three assists, while Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin and Travis Boyd chipped in with two each for the Maple Leafs in the opener of a three-game set between the North Division rivals.
The 37-year-old Spezza last had a three-goal performance on April 9, 2016, when he was with the Dallas Stars.
J.T. Miller had a goal and an assist, and Tanner Pearson and Bo Horvat also scored for Vancouver. Thatcher Demko stopped 30 shots as the Canucks dropped their third straight in regulation this week.
''We're a rested team playing against a very tired team that's had a very tough schedule,'' Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. ''I expected us to be really good, make it hard on Vancouver.
''Of course the challenge here now is to regroup and do it again.''
The teams play eight more times in the NHL's abbreviated 56-game season, including Saturday and Monday at Scotiabank Arena.
NOTES: The Maple Leafs were coming off a four-day break following a 3-0-1 swing through Alberta. ... Three of Vancouver's six wins have come against the rebuilding Ottawa Senators. ... Leafs assistant coach Manny Malhotra was in Vancouver's lineup the last time Canucks won in Toronto on Dec. 17, 2011.
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