Game 69: What just happened?
If we've learned one thing about the Toronto Maple Leafs this season it is this: We've learned nothing. Zilch. Nil. Zero. Absolutely nothing. After 69 games, honestly, I don't know jacksquat about what I'm watching any more.
Is it ice hockey? Sheep herding? Paintball?
I don't know. I'm so dizzy.
Just when you think this team has safely turned a corner, they face-plant into a brick wall. Just when you think they are as doomed as Nicolas Cage in Leaving Las Vegas, they give us reason to stop pounding back lemon drop martinis.
If you had a gambling problem and your obsession was betting on Leaf games, you would be broke by now. You would be alone, jobless, homeless, dazed and confused, begging for spare change on a downtown street corner with a cardboard sign that reads: "WHAT JUST HAPPENED?"
When tonight's comeback victory over Buffalo concluded, I tumbled off the couch as if an unseen force had walloped the back of my head with a beanbag chair. This unpredictable, back-and-forth, emotionally exhausting game left me gasping for breath, clutching my side as I sprawled supine on the hardwood floors, grinning and mumbling that three-word question up into the halogen spotlights.
What just happened?
Inside my head, trying to piece together the disorienting, heart-pounding spectacle, I felt like an eyewitness talking to the cops:
Ah, well officers, I’m pretty sure I saw the Sabres score first, maybe even on their first shot. I remember feeling numb. Then I think the Leafs tied it up. Hang on. I’m pretty sure the Leafs jumped ahead 2-1. Yes, I remember feeling... hopeful.
But then Buffalo scored two goals and had a 3-2 lead going into the third.
And what happened after that second wave of numbness? Oh, you know, more hope.
Officers, as far as I can tell, the magnificent bastards refused to die. They refused to let the Sabres waltz into their barn and bury them next to the chicken feed. They decided to rise up from the ashes of sure death to live another day inside the wild and unpredictable parallel universe known as Leafs Nation.
So despite getting outshot 32-19 after two periods, the Leafs regrouped, refocused and stormed the ice for the third with sawed-off shotguns, killer instincts and James Reimer waiting to drive the getaway car.
Mikhail Grabovski opened fire and tied the game at 4:03, when he one-timed a gorgeous feed from Carl Gunnarsson. Exactly two minutes and 33 seconds later, Phil Kessel controlled a cross-ice outlet pass from Luke Schenn, streaked down the right side, stutter-stepped around Jordan Leopold and beat Ryan Miller with one of his patented laser beams.
That was that: A 4-3 final score. The team's first Saturday night win since New Year's Day. And most important, another scramble forward in the standings, where Toronto now sits in 10th spot, four points behind Buffalo.
You know, whatever happens Monday against Tampa and beyond – only a fool would hazard a guess at this point – I'm just grateful for the meaningful nature of what's unfolding in our midst this late in the season.
We're heading into March break and I haven't already packed up my blue-and-white paraphernalia? What? We're a couple of hours away from daylight savings time and I'm not fighting the urge to set my clocks forward to training camp in September?
Has this season shortened our lives by a few years? Probably. Am I tempted to smoke eucalyptus leaves after every game in a desperate attempt to soothe my jangled nerves? Definitely.
But here's the thing: It's March 13 and we're still asking questions. We are still high-fiving each other and looking around with dazed but overjoyed expressions. We are still hopeful.
The Leafs recovered from a flat start tonight and pumped more life into their tires. So buckle-up and clear your schedule. What just happened? The crazy ride continues, that's what happened.
We are rumbling down an unmarked road with no maps and no sense of where we're going but, somehow, it feels right.
MAIN PHOTO: CHRIS YOUNG/CANADIAN PRESS