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In order to analogize what his many players planted in the penalty box on Saturday night were thinking, Leafs coach Mike Babcock used the example of a snowmobile.

“You sit there and freeze to death,” Babcock said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been out in a snowstorm or been out Ski-Dooing and your Ski-Doo runs out of gas and you gotta sit there and you gotta wait for someone to bring you gas and you just sit there, but you’re not allowed to walk around because you might stay warm if you do that.”

No, that’s never happened to me. I’m from Toronto. I drive a Subaru.

Babcock’s rhetorical approach never changes – rapid-fire, run-on sentences, gripping the podium so hard it’s close to splintering – but you know when he gets into his Prairie vaudeville routine that he’s in high spirits.

We haven’t seen that Babcock in a while. Lately, he’s been so tight, you could pluck him and get a high E.

But after extending the Leafs-Bruins series to a sixth game on Saturday night, Babcock had exhaled. Now he was at his preseason, teasing best.

Hey, what about that officiating on Saturday night?

“Well, that’s a real nice question …” – very short beat – “… You should ask me in the summer.”

Oh, the laughter. The looseness. The good vibes. And those were just the camera guys.

Toronto is not yet back, baby, but after spending the first few days under the wheels, it has at least boarded the playoff bus. The bus may even be moving.

In the course of three hours on Saturday night, the 2017-18 Leafs took their season from potential disaster to qualified success. The last hour of that game was spent repelling a six- or seven-man Boston attack (including referees).

Even the score – 4-1 Toronto late in the second – was portentous. This was 2013 redux, only more embarrassing a second time around. It was the kind of storyline – “curse strikes again” – that has in the past turned this organization upside down.

We all know what would have come next.

The Great Wheel of Toronto Hockey Pain would have begun creaking to life, preparing to crush a few people in the coming months: Auston Matthews, whichever player was responsible for the go-ahead Boston goal, Babcock. You name it. Everyone would’ve been fair game.

First, the city goes squirrelly. A touch of that infects the room. Someone says something ill-advised in front of microphone. Then it all starts going to hell.

That was not a certain outcome had Toronto lost, but losing would have made it a real possibility.

Winning, on the other hand, winning just that one game, has let everyone off the hook. Nobody will leave this angry. No one will have to take the blame. The excuses are so good, the Leafs won’t have to provide them themselves. Other people will do it for them.

At worst, the Leafs have now lost a close series against a championship-calibre team.

The Leafs dominated one game and won, dominated another and lost, and were the lesser team in a third but still managed to hang on. That’s a nice, explainable mix of quality and luck.

(Most people will forget the two early games in which the Leafs were hit early by a rogue Bruins wave and washed out of the arena).

That’s the source of Babcock’s good mood. He knows he just bought himself another year.

“I’m proud of our group,” he said Sunday. He would’ve said the same thing if they’d lost, but in a very different tone.

That same feeling of relief was so evident in the dressing room, it was contagious. People came out smiling – it’s been a while. Their postures were more relaxed, the stares less glazed.

“I’m glad we got over that curse,” Jake Gardiner said, referencing 2013. “So that’s out of our minds now.”

Let’s remember that no one wanted to talk about the “curse” – or admit it was a thing – until it was done.

Gardiner was so loosey-goosey he could laugh about a questionable roughing penalty he took late in the game on Saturday.

“I guess I was the third guy in and then I hit [Zdeno] Chara’s fist with my face,” he said.

How’d that feel?

“Not great.”

More laughs and merriment. Three days ago, if you’d laughed in the Leafs dressing room, you’d expect someone to walk you out in a headlock.

You also know that if Toronto had lost that game, we’d be hearing Gardiner’s story told a different way. The officials would have been the villains of the piece. But now everyone in blue and white was rushing in to excuse them.

Even Brad Marchand – Brad Marchand! – was getting a verbal back rub from the Leafs.

A couple of people tried a couple of ways to get Morgan Rielly to say that Marchand is a dirty player (which he is). Rielly wouldn’t bite. “That’s just part of his game.”

It doesn’t bother you?

“That’s just hockey.”

As Rielly walked away, someone shouted after him, “We want you to say that you hate him!”

Riellly allowed himself a smirk.

Back in the main press room, Babcock was about to hold court and have a little fun. He answered questions with questions; told a few jokes; did a little mime; retreated to his favourite backstop – that it’s just hockey.

“I love doing it, love the kids, love being around it, all that stuff, but I got a whole other life,” Babcock said. “I’m going to leave here in a few minutes, enjoy the rest of the day … and come back tomorrow.”

It’s a healthy perspective, and one only coaches who feel either completely secure or know they are dead men walking get to indulge.

Babcock was never in any real trouble. But on Sunday, you could see that for the first time in this postseason he felt clear of any trouble at all.

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