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article imageLeafs fan Flames in hopes to prevent year from going up in smoke Special

By Dave Pitman     Apr 2, 2014 in Sports
Margin for error the slimmest it's been all season, The Toronto Maple leafs snapped an eight game losing streak while playing host to the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at the Air Canada Center, keeping their playoff hopes alive for at least one more game.
"It was an extremely tough stretch to go through, but now we build on it. We enjoy it, we feel good about ourselves, now we come back to the rink tomorrow and we prepare for the next one." Phaneuf told media, post game.
1-9-0 in their previous 10 games, The Maple Leafs suffered a collapse that has seen the club fall from playoff contention and into a dog fight for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Flames, however, are in a rebuild stage and sit 13th in the Western Conference, but are more than willing to play spoilers.
"We want to come in and knock them down again.” said Former Leaf Matt Stajan in an interview this morning.
Somewhat of a homecoming for many on the team, the Calgary Flames dressed 10 players born in Ontario against the Maple Leafs. Amongst those coming home to play in front of their families, a few familiar faces returned to the media crazed market that homes the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Yeah, it’s not fun for them right now. I know that." laughed Joe Colborne, a former Maple Leaf centre who spent parts of three seasons with the Leafs and Marlies organizations. Colborne was traded to the Flames at the start of the season.
Jonathan Bernier got the start for the Leafs, his fourth consecutive. Bernier finished the month of March with a .907 SV%, his lowest monthly total of the season. At the opposite end, Karri Ramo tended net for the Flames. Ramo won three of his previous five starts.
The game started with a hesitant pace from both clubs. The Maple Leafs approach appeared to be on the defensive side, dumping and chasing and blocking shots. Midway through the first, Phil Kessel took a hard pass off the ankle, the same ankle struck by a shot just a few games prior. Clearly in pain, Kessel skated to the bench where he then broke his stick over the boards. He would remain in the game and the period came to an end dead-locked at 0-0, the Flames out-shooting the Leafs 7-5.
It would not take long, however, to see the first goal of the game scored in the second period. With less than a minute off the clock, a rare Jay McClement goal, his fourth of the year, would put the Leafs ahead early. McClement's goal snapped a 17-game goal drought for the defensive-minded centre. The Flames would try to counter quickly, as Calgary forward Curtis Glencross tipped a shot past Bernier, but it was waived off almost immediately due to the height of the stick when making contact with the puck. The flat pace continued, Toronto attempting to lock down defensively with Calgary putting together faint signs of offensive production. With a few ticks more than three minutes remaining in the frame, Calgary would finally strike. Mike Giordano dished to T.J Brodie who placed a perfect pass by the Toronto defence and right onto the stick of former Maple Leaf Matt Stajan who beat Bernier through the five-hole.
Matt Stajan had 223 points with the Leafs over 7 seasons before being traded to Calgary. The second period concluded at a 1-1 tie, shots still a premium with the Flames out-shooting the Leafs 14-13.
Striking early in the third, the Leafs were rewarded for their great passing with a little bit of luck, something they haven't had a whole lot of lately. Working the puck out front, T.J Brodie was the victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time as he deflected a puck coming from Dave Bolland past his own goalie and in. Soon after, Mason Raymond banked a loose puck off the boards to a wide open David Clarkson breaking towards the Calgary offensive zone where he beat Ramo to put the Leafs ahead 3-1. Clarkson's goal broke the longest scoreless streak of his career, going 16 games without a point.
The Flames managed to get one back when former Leaf Joe Colborne dished to Kris Russell who buried a wrist shot to bring the Flames to within 1. Despite a late surge with the extra attacker, The Maple Leafs held on to snap their 8 game losing streak, their first win since March 13th.
With the win, the Maple Leafs saw their playoff hopes rise to 8.6% after both Washington and Columbus were defeated in their respective games Tuesday night. Secondary scoring has been highly criticized for the Maple Leafs during their losing streak, David Clarkson in particular taking the the heat from fans and media after signing his lucrative deal this past off season.
"Its always a team game.. but its been tough and what's said and what goes on… personally I'm not happy with the season, I hold myself accountable, I need to be better but the big thing is we've got five games left and as a team we have to play hard every night.", Clarkson told reporters after the game, "We've got to stick together in here and back each other up."
"That's great for Clarky. Numbers aren't always everything… He's brought a lot more to the table than people give him credit for." Franson said of Clarkson, as Dion Phaneuf echoed, "For Clarky to get that goal it was a huge goal for our team…Great for him to get that, it gave us a cushion.. It was such a timely goal."
The game was a change of pace, defensively minded, a clear change of style for the Maple Leafs.
"The shot total was down a lot from what it normally is… It was a different style of game.", said Phaneuf.
Jonathan Bernier seemed to enjoy the new approach.
"It was nice actually, we really battled hard and blocked shots. we paid the price tonight and deserved to win…We can't really control whats going to happen next, but we found a win and now we have to prepare for Thursday against Boston."
The Leafs have a tough task ahead of them, as they attempt to keep the post season dream alive when they take on the Boston Bruins, the Eastern Conference leaders, on Thursday night. Randy Carlyle knows his team can't look to their first win in 8 games as a model way of playing, as the game wasn't exactly perfectly executed.
"I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves because we didn't paint a Mona Lisa here tonight." said Carlyle in his post game presser. As for Cody Franson, he's just happy to have one back in the win column.
"Beats losing, thats for sure."
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