When you read the following, keep in mind that this is no April Fool’s prank.
a) The Maple Leafs actually won a game.
b) David Clarkson scored a goal.
c) Toronto’s playoff hopes are still alive, albeit wafer-thin and slim.
We would not be so cruel to joke about these things to long-suffering Leafs fans, who have been forced to watch their heroes all but flush away an outstanding opportunity to reach the playoffs by losing eight consecutive regular-season games for the first time since 1985 — Wendel Clark’s rookie season.
Indeed, there remains a pulse in Randy Carlyle’s team, which recorded its first victory in three weeks thanks to a 3-2 triumph over Brian Burke’s Calgary Flames.
No need to explain the irony there.
The Leafs had not been on the winning end of a hockey game in 19 days, a stretch dating back to a 3-2 decision over the 2012 Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings at the Staples Centre.
At that time, there actually was chatter around town about Randy Carlyle’s team vying for home-ice advantage in the first round.
My, how times have changed.
Granted, a victory over the Flames, the 26th-place team in the standings, is hardly a reason to start planning a parade route along Bay St.
But in this case, Carlyle, Dave Nonis and Co. will take anything they can get.
The Leafs now have 82 points in the standings with five games left. In order to reach the 92-point plateau — the total most observers figure will be required to qualify for the playoffs — Toronto will have to win out in home meetings with Boston and Winnipeg, followed by road dates in Tampa, Florida and Ottawa.
On a positive note, the Leafs — for once — received some help from the out-of-town scoreboard.
In Columbus, the Blue Jackets were held to just a single point by dropping a 3-2 overtime decision to the Avalanche. Meanwhile, in Washington, the Caps were humiliated 5-0 by the visiting Dallas Stars.
As a result, the Leafs moved into ninth with 82 points, one ahead of the 10th-place Caps. The eighth-place Jackets are one point ahead of the Leafs with 83, although Columbus does have two games in hand over Toronto.
Jay McClement, David Bolland and Clarkson tallied for the Leafs, who actually scored the opening goal for a second consecutive game.
Clarkson had gone 16 games without a point until he beat Karri Ramo midway through the third period. It was his first point since a Feb. 6 game in Tampa Bay.
With the Flames in town, of course, much of the buzz leading up to the game centred around the return of the bombastic Brian Burke.
Back in 2012, then-Maple Leafs GM Burke compared his team’s 1-8-1 funk at the time to an “18-wheeler going right off a cliff.”
Two years later, Burke’s Flames had the opportunity to push this edition of the Maple Leafs closer to the edge, if not over the side.
Relieved of his duties as Leafs GM and president almost 15 months ago, Burke’s Flames came to the Air Canada Centre for the first time since he took over as Calgary GM.
There can be no disputing that Burke, for better or worse, put together the foundation of the 2014 Leafs,
Like it or not, Burke’s fingerprints are all over this team, bringing cornerstones Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Cody Franson, Jake Gardiner and James van Riemsdyk to Toronto while drafting Nazem Kadri and Morgan Rielly.
Meanwhile, hometown boy and ex-Leaf Matt Stajan scored one of the Flames’ goals. It must have felt good for Stajan, whose newborn son passed away shortly after birth last month.
But in the end, even his on-ice heroics couldn’t get the job done for Calgary.