The Toronto Maple Leafs rescued what could have been a dismal week in St. Louis on Saturday night.
After a beat-down in Winnipeg and a somnambulant 1-0 loss in Minnesota, the Leafs were facing the prospect of a 0-3 road trip if they lost in regulation to the powerhouse Blues.
That would have left them in dead last in the entire NHL and made their already thin playoff hopes even more unrealistic.
What happened instead is they turned in one of their best games of the season. Nazem Kadri led the way with the Leafs' first fight of the season and two goals – his first multigoal outing in nearly two years – and rookie goalie Garret Sparks allowed only one early goal as part of an impressive 4-1 win.
After a one-win first month under coach Mike Babcock, the Leafs are 8-6-3 and continuing to put a scare into some of the NHL's better teams.
Despite several injuries, inconsistent goaltending and attempting to adopt a dramatically different system, they're on pace for more points than last season with their makeshift roster.
"The more guys we get that buy in to being competitive, the more games we'll win," Babcock said.
What was even more encouraging for the franchise was how the weekend went for their prospects.
Mitch Marner, the Leafs' fourth overall pick in 2015, had two hat tricks back-to-back Friday and Saturday. The highlights of his games with the London Knights were downright ridiculous, as he made between the legs dekes and backhand top shelf shots look routine.
Marner now has an incredible 58 points in 25 games to lead the OHL. After 11 points in three games on the weekend, he has three five-point games in the past month and an unthinkable 37 points in his past 12 games.
He wasn't the only Leafs prospect to have a terrific few days, either.
Dmytro Timashov, a fifth-rounder in his second season with the Quebec Remparts, had his own five-point game on Friday against Shawinigan. The dynamic little Swedish winger, who caught Babcock's eye in training camp, is now tied for third in QMJHL scoring with 51 points in 28 games.
Andreas Johnson, a seventh-round pick in 2013, had a hat trick for Frolunda to keep him among the Swedish league's leading scorers. The just-turned-21-year-old has more goals and more points than any other young player in that league.
The AHL Marlies also went 3-0 on the weekend, getting terrific goaltending in two games from the exiled Jonathan Bernier and outscoring their opponents 16-1 in the three games.
By season's end, it's not implausible that the Leafs could have the leading scorers in three leagues: William Nylander in the AHL, Marner in the OHL and Timashov in the Q.
All three are expected to be superstars for their national teams at the world juniors in Helsinki later this month, too, giving Leafs fans who have watched the NHL team labour to score all season a promising glimpse of the future.
Those are a lot of arrows going in the right direction.
And they're far more important ones than getting these intermittent wins in the NHL.
Even with the Leafs' improved play of late, the pointy heads out there who do a great job of forecasting the standings don't give them a lot of hope this season. According to hockeyviz.com, they're currently projected to finish with about 82 points and fourth last in the league.
The Leafs' chances of making the playoffs are less (7.6 per cent) than their chances of getting the first overall pick in the draft (8 per cent) after the lottery is factored in.
Those numbers will likely continue to spread in opposite directions when management begins The Great Selloff of 2016™ leading up to the Feb. 29 trade deadline, moving out players with expiring contracts for more draft picks, in order to acquire more Timashovs.
The Leafs will then lose games, but their prospect stable will only gain.
There have been a lot of positives so far with the Babcock Leafs. In their non-Bernier games, they now have a 9-5-4 record. For the most part, they are competitive in games, even against top-tier teams such as Washington and St. Louis.
What they lack is dynamic game breakers – the Patrick Kane-type players who can create a goal in a tight, one-goal game out of nothing – and it's difficult for any coach, even a $50-million one, to conjure those out of thin air.
But they do appear to be coming. The hope has to be that out of these top prospects – Nylander, Marner and whoever's drafted next June – there is a superstar that projects into a top-line talent. Right now, both Nylander and Marner are proving they're too good for the leagues they're in, which means a jump up to the Leafs is all-but guaranteed for next season.
It'll be fascinating to see what Babcock's structure combined with more youth and flash-and-dash looks like over the next two or three years.
Based on what we saw this past weekend, it could work. Perhaps even sooner than anyone thought.