A handful of hats fluttered down onto the Air Canada Centre ice surface when Darren Helm scored his third goal of the game on Saturday night, presumably from the Red Wings fans in the house.
Leafs fans, meanwhile, were probably waving white towels to signify their surrender.
Because, thanks to Detroit’s 4-2 victory over Toronto, the Leafs playoff hopes are at the critical stage.
Maybe the fat lady isn’t singing yet but she certainly is warming up her voice.
How bad are things?
This is the first time the Leafs have suffered eight consecutive regulation losses since 1985. Back then, Dan Maloney was behind the bench, Rick Vaive wore the “C” on his blue-and-white jersey, Wendel Clark was a rookie and owner Harold Ballard was still watching games from his bunker at the north end of Maple Leaf Gardens.
Twenty-nine long years later, the Leafs have done it again.
And this time, it likely will cost them a post-season berth.
Right now, the Leafs have just six games remaining on their schedule — three at home, three on the road. The maximum number of points they can accrue by winning out is 92, which is the total many hockey execs feel will be needed to get into the dance.
The victory gave Detroit 82 points, two more than the Leafs, who sit 10th in the Eastern Conference. The Wings also hold two games in hand.
These Wings look more like their affiliate from Grand Rapids, given all the injuries Detroit is nursing. Topping the list would be the absence of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, two of the brighest stars in the league.
Of course, that didn’t stop Mike Babcock’s team from defeating the Leafs 3-2 back on March 18 at Joe Louis Arena. Rubbing salt into the wounds of bitter Leafs fans was the fact that Daniel Alfredsson, Public Enemy No. 1 in Toronto, scored the eventual winning goal for the home side.
The Leafs went on to lose their following five outings after that heading into Saturday night’s key clash against the Wings at the ACC. A slippery slope indeed.
And the players knew it.
“We’re playing for our playoff lives,” winger Mason Raymond said after the team held a morning meeting on Saturday.
“This is a must-win for us,” added defenceman Cody Franson.
In the first period, they played like it too.
Having allowed the first goal in eight of the previous nine games, the Leafs played one of their best periods in recent memory, allowing just four shots in the first 15 minutes while taking a 1-0 lead.
It was Franson who put the Leafs on the board at 10:57 of the opening frame, blasting a shot from the point on a play that was started by a clean faceoff win by Jay McClement. Jake Gardiner also drew an assist on the goal.
Between getting pucks in deep and being efficient in clearing the defensive zone, these Leafs looked as if they were finally getting the message coach Randy Carlyle and his staff has been preaching all season.
But that all changed in a span of 4:52 of the second period.
In that time, the Wings exploded for three goals, a run ignited by Helm’s shorthanded tally at 3:05 of the second. Three flagrant Leaf giveaways led up to the goal, including two by Gardiner and one by Phil Kessel.
It was the 11th shorthanded goal allowed by the Leafs this season, tying the Oilers and Flyers for the most in the NHL.
Gustav Nyqvist and Helm, with his second, scored shortly afterward, causing the ACC crowd to bust into chants of “Let’s Go Red Wings.”
But just when things looked most dire, the Leafs drew momentum by killing off a double minor to David Bolland. Moments later, Joffrey Lupul narrowed the gap to 3-2 just before the second intermission.
Leave it to Helm to rain on Toronto’s parade, however. His hat trick goal midway through the third pretty much finished off the Leafs on this night.
And, perhaps, for the season.