Toronto Maple Leafs snap losing streak, keep playoff hopes alive
After a torrid start to the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs had started to falter down the stretch. With a record of 4-10-1 in the month of March and an eight-game losing streak to close the month, the start of April saw the Leafs get back on track with a 3-2 victory over the Calgary Flames.
With former general manager and current Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke looking on in the press box, the team he worked to assemble for more than five years came together to keep themselves in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Goals from checking-line forwards Jay McClement and Dave Bolland opened up the lead for Toronto, and David Clarkson’s fifth goal of the season proved to be the game-winner.
Clarkson has largely been a disappointment this season for Toronto. After signing a seven-year, $36.75 million deal, Clarkson suspended for the first 10 games for leaving the bench to join a preseason fight against the Buffalo Sabres, and now has just 11 points (5+6) and a minus-12 rating. But the gritty right winger is exactly the kind of veteran player the Leafs will need to step up if they still have any playoff aspirations.
For Clarkson, helping this team move forward and up into the top eight of the Eastern Conference is still the primary goal, he told Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun.
“It’s a relief, more for the team than for me,” said Clarkson, whose third-period goal proved to be the eventual game winner. “I can take (the criticism), but this is about the team.
“The biggest thing about scoring was that it helped the team win. Now we have to look ahead.”
Oddly enough, losing one more game could have proven to be a good omen for the Maple Leafs. The last time they lost nine consecutive games was back in 1967, which is also the last time this franchise won the Stanley Cup.
As James Mirtle explains, the Leafs improved their playoff chances to 8.6 percent with the victory against the Flames. With this latest win being the first time Toronto picked up a point in the standings since March 13th, they are predictably falling behind some of their wild card competition. Here’s a look at the updated Eastern Conference standings:
Last night’s action outside of Toronto actually proved to be helpful for the Maple Leafs. Washington was shellacked 5-0 by the Dallas Stars, helping Dallas slide into eighth place in the Western Conference and keeping the Capitals just one point ahead of Toronto. New Jersey and Columbus each picked up one point in losses to Buffalo and Colorado, respectively, while the Detroit Red Wings were not in action.
Obviously, things are getting tight in the Eastern Conference. Five teams (Detroit, Columbus, Toronto, Washington, New Jersey) sit within four points of each other vying for two playoff seeds. Toronto is at the obvious disadvantage, having played two more games than Detroit and Columbus and one more than Washington and New Jersey.
Things don’t get any easier for the Maple Leafs from here on out, who only have two more games at the Air Canada Centre. One of those is Thursday against a Boston Bruins club that went 15-1-1 in March. A three-game road stretch to close the season has Toronto taking on a formidable Tampa Bay team before two must-win games against Florida and Ottawa.
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Around the Rink Assistant Site Manager Joe Ray – @jpray_SK
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