First Brad Boyes scored, finally recording his first goal as a Toronto Maple Leaf more than 15 years after former general manager Pat Quinn drafted the local kid.
Then Boyes scored again – at least until a coach's challenge by the Dallas Stars wiped it out.
But in came Joffrey Lupul with the winner and an insurance marker in the second period, his fourth and fifth goals of the season.
The normally sluggish crowd at the Air Canada Centre was moved to cheer more loudly than it had all year. Coach Mike Babcock and his players appeared visibly relieved, as an offence that had produced only nine goals in its past six games broke through in a 4-1 win over one of the NHL's best teams.
But the happiest man in the building should have been Brendan Shanahan.
This has been one of the odder beginnings to a Leafs season in recent memory. Going into the game, the 1-7-2 start – combined with producing only two goals a game – had some Toronto fans more excited than dismayed, as bottoming out and getting a good draft pick is an obvious plus in a rebuilding year.
Not even a month into the season, the conversation had already turned to Auston Matthews, Jakob Chychrun and Matthew Tkachuk – some of the top prospects in the 2016 draft.
The more pressing problem for Leafs management, however, is what to do with many of the players they already have, especially given the zeros next to their names on stats sheets night after night.
Realistically, there should be four priorities with this Leafs season:
1. Get a good draft pick.
2. Allow Babcock to instill his system and develop young players such as Morgan Rielly.
3. Trade rental players for draft picks and/or prospects.
4. Dump bad contracts, preferably without retaining salary.
Nos. 1 and 2 are certainly on track. Even after beating Dallas, the Leafs sat tied with Anaheim for the second-worst record in the league, which suggests that another top-five pick is a reasonable possibility.
There are also plenty of signs that the coaching staff's diligent work is paying off with a possession game that's gone from horrible to middle of the pack despite the Leafs subpar talent level.
And Rielly has been terrific, leading the team in ice time and scoring (eight points in 11 games). He's also taking on some difficult defensive assignments in only his third NHL season.
The trouble comes when we get to items 3 and 4.
The Houdini act from the Leafs offence has involved their likely rental players most. Thanks to Monday's breakout, Boyes has six points in nine games, but he has been a healthy scratch twice. P.A. Parenteau has two points in 11 games and has been relegated to the fourth line. Michael Grabner, with two points, is in a similar spot, and he has been sat for two games. Mark Arcobello was sent to the minors. Shawn Matthias hasn't produced and it has been a tough start for defenceman Roman Polak.
That lack of production could make those players a hard sell to playoff-bound teams come the March trade deadline. The benefit with all six is their contracts expire at the end of the year. Even if they're not moved, they're not ongoing liabilities in terms of roster spots or cap hits.
The bigger problem is if the Leafs veterans with big contracts can't produce. Lupul's three-point night Monday needs to be the start of a trend if Shanahan is going to have a hope of moving the last two years of his $5.25-million-a-season deal.
Captain Dion Phaneuf, meanwhile, has been dealt easier minutes and plenty of power-play time, and it's paid off with seven points so far.
The coach has also been pumping his tires despite some clear mobility issues for the 30-year-old defenceman, who is making $7-million for another five seasons beyond this one. "He might have been our best player this year," Babcock said.
Then there's Tyler Bozak – who's making $4.25-million a season until 2018 – with three points in seven games.
Lupul, Phaneuf and Bozak all have no-trade clauses. They won't be easy to move, especially if the Leafs power play keeps misfiring and the team's shooting percentage hangs around 7 per cent. For all the advances that the analytics have brought to NHL front offices, goals and assists still hold a great deal of weight with GMs. Without more of them, those three big-ticket players probably aren't going anywhere.
So Lupul and Phaneuf need to keep putting up points at this pace, and Bozak needs to get started.
It's an odd situation in an odd year, with these conflicting priorities. The Leafs will definitely benefit from another high pick, preferably their third top-five selection in the last five years. But the team has little chance of adding prospects and draft picks at the trade deadline if the current players don't produce more offence.
That's why nights like Monday, with the pucks going in off the right sticks, are vital.
And Leafs fans can cheer, either way.