The Leafs didn't leave the city on Saturday night. They fled it.
Two games, two ugly defeats and Toronto's mood had already passed beyond hysteric into thrombotic.
In an effort to promote public calm, the local tabloid ran their Sunday game preview under the headline, "It's desperation time for the Maple Leafs."
As the team was getting hammered by Pittsburgh on Saturday night, some lonely hero without any real problems trod down to ice level and chucked a $150 Toronto jersey onto the ice. The ACC crowd responded with roars, clapping him up the stairs and out into the night.
The scene was reminiscent of the Tank Man at Tiananmen Square. Except completely pointless, as well as annoyingly bourgeois.
"It's very disrespectful. The guy's walking up the stands, giving high fives like he won an Oscar or something," said Nazem Kadri. "We don't need fans like that."
My friend, all you've got is fans like that.
The Leafs and their adherents are like pet owners who begin to resemble their dogs. As years pass and the club continues to tunnel beneath life's Mendoza Line, the fanbase has become as twisted and reactionary as the team they support.
Nobody in Toronto thinks the Leafs consistent mediocrity is an accident any more. They think this is some sort of weird conspiracy cooked up by the plutocrats in the MLSE boardroom to ruin their lives.
Well, they're right about the second thing.
(Toronto can take some solace in this: On Sunday, New York writers were asking their Toronto counterparts if coach Randy Carlyle was going to be fired if the Leafs lost to the Rangers. That would a loss in the third game. Of the season. Which consists of 79 more games. New Yorkers are good at a lot of things, but their real gift is the cheery enthusiasm of their paranoia.) If there was panic in the room, they were doing a good job of hiding it. That's a credit to Carlyle, who continues to whistle as he walks along the cliff edge.
"We've got to calm down. Simplify things," said current defenceman and future Shaolin monk, Stephane Robidas. "Sometimes when you try to do too much, it's not enough."
I have no idea what that means, but I'll bet it sounds even more impressive in French.
James Reimer replaced Jonathan Bernier in net and, eventually, our hearts. When the game was still in doubt, Reimer held his team in it. In the third, he was struck in the head by a streaking Dominic Moore and pulled as a precaution. Reimer could be seen jawing the head trainer, begging to stay in, but the protocols are the protocols.
"I'm good," he said afterward. You'd like to think so, but his history always suggests a glass-half-empty approach. Try to look on the bright side – maybe we won't get the de rigeur goalie controversy now.
Since this is all about balance and the universe, they did rid themselves of the top-line controversy. The combination of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk finally began their season on Sunday, five days late.
"We have to make some changes," Carlyle said. "Their time on the power play has to become more effective. That's been the most disturbing thing about it."
The trio didn't start the game. They appeared once early, digging a foxhole in their own end and hiding in it. They weren't seen again until eight minutes into the period on a power play.
Carlyle sent one significant pre-game message, benching defenceman Jake Gardiner in favour of the returning Cody Franson. Poor Gardiner. Every now and again, Carlyle has to lay a figurative beating on one of his knuckleheads in order to cow the rest of them. It's always Gardiner.
Worse still, Franson was the catalyst for the Leafs' first consistent effort of the year. He scored the first goal (assisted by Kessel and Bozak) on the power play. All hail Swami Randy. If you're going to blame him when things go wrong, he gets the credit when they luck into right. On Sunday, the Leafs couldn't lose for winning.
Franson assisted on the second. He was on the ice for the third.
Where they had been sluggish and unlucky, Toronto could not put a foot wrong.
"It's a funny game," van Riemsdyk would say later. I trust he doesn't mean funny ha-ha.
The Leafs scored five goals in ten second-period minutes. They hadn't matched that one-period total in three years.
This exceedingly well-time outburst is especially gratifying in New York. The fans here act as if hockey is a secret cult they founded. No Rangers supporter would ever throw his/her jersey onto the ice, and probably because it's the only shirt they ever wear.
As the Leafs continued to press, the room got quieter. Then it all went completely bonkers.
Van Riemsdyk scored on a short-handed breakaway. Bozak scored his first. And then … no, really, grab hold of something before you read this … David Clarkson scored. Have you regained consciousness? Maybe you should get your head between your legs for a few minutes. We'll wait for you.
(/Whistling. /Papers shuffling. /Ennui descending.) Having rocketed into the plus column, Clarkson is now on pace to score a single goal this season.
At that point it was 6-2 and the Rangers had been insulted enough. Henrik Lundqvist was pulled. In two home games, the Leafs top line had managed two points. In two periods in New York, they added another seven.
It would end 6-3. One can only presume that Torontonians were out in the streets until late Sunday night, dismantling the tire barricades and putting the Molotov cocktails back in the shed.
After three games, we've proved at least one thing – that attempting to judge a Leafs team after any two or three games is impossible and maddening. So in Toronto, it's the main reason people watch.