The Toronto Maple Leafs, knowing they faced not making the playoffs for the first time since the 1972-73 season, outhustled the Quebec Nordiques tonight for a 4-2 victory.

The Leafs, who outshot the Nordiques, 42-23, finished at 28-37-15, good for 71 points in the overall standings, one point ahead of the Washington Capitals.

"Tonight was the biggest game of the whole year for us," said Maple Leaf Coach Mike Nykoluk. "We knew what we had to do. We had to cut down on the shots and stop the Stastny brothers. We were able to do that tonight and that is why we won the game."

Ron Sedlbauer, whose two goals powered the Leafs to victory, was not depending on the Red Wings upsetting the Capitals.

"I don't think that many of the guys on the team thought of the game in Washington," the left wing said. "Because we expected them (the Capitals) to win. Therefore, it was a must-win situation right from the start."

But the Leafs appeared to be a bit shaky minutes after the public-address announcer at Quebec Coliseum announced that Washington had a 3-1 first-period lead. Moments later, Quebec's Marc Tardif broke down the left side and drilled a shot past goalie Jiri Crha, giving the Nordiques a 1-0 edge.

"It was only coincidence that the goal came at that time," said the Leafs' captain, Darryl Sittler. "We can't be concerned with what the other team does."

As announcements of the Capitals' lead kept pouring in, the Leafs did not lose their concentration, holding a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period.

Wilf Paiement scored at 12:08 to tied the score, 1-1, and Sedlbauer, on a power play, put the Leafs ahead.

"The last couple of games I have been playing really well," Sedlbauer said. "And I knew that something had to happen. I felt really good before the game and I had a feeling that I would possibly score a couple of goals tonight."

Sedlbauer's second of the contest, on another power play, came at 7:34 of the second period to give the Leafs a 3-1 edge. Nordique rookie Dave Pichette narrowed the gap to 3-2 on a power play at 10:13.

The Leafs were not thrown offstride in the third period, however, when the Capitals' 7-2 victory was announced. In fact, it seemed to make them play with even more determination.

"At that point we were up on the Nordiques and we were in the driver's seat," Sittler said. "I thought we played good, disciplined hockey."

Bill Derlago finally put the game away with his empty-net goal with 49 seconds remaining.

"It was a very important game for us and everybody wanted to win," Crha said. "We didn't want to have an early summer."

Unfortunately for the Capitals, their vacations have started.