TORONTO – This is one of those special stories hockey fans love hearing about and watching this time of year, some of the moments that make the NHL playoffs so fun and memorable.
Consider Clarke MacArthur’s recent exploits.
Following his postseason debut in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, the Maple Leafs scratched MacArthur twice, no doubt an embarrassing experience for the assistant captain, who played a whopping 403 regular-season games before finally skating in a playoff contest.
But the Leafs inserted MacArthur again for Game 4 on Wednesday, and the 28-year-old scored the tying goal in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins.
Sure enough, despite limited ice time, the likable MacArthur netted what held up as the winning goal in the Leafs’ season-saving 2-1 win that night in Boston.
He called the nifty score the best of 95 NHL goals.
“I always knew I could do it,” MacArthur said of his playoff performances prior to Sunday’s series-tying 2-1 win in Game 6 inside Air Canada Centre. “I’ve done it before in playoffs throughout my career. It’s something where you’re so antsy wanting to get that chance. I was lucky enough to get it.”
Minutes earlier, when MacArthur walked into the dressing room after the Leafs’ skate, he informed reporters he wouldn’t be making any pregame guarantees.
“I don’t have any predictions today, boys,” MacArthur said. “I would but I’d get in trouble. I’ll write it down on a piece of paper and give it to you after.”
Well, MacArthur made at least one prediction. When the Toronto Star called his mother, Deb, in Alberta, she told the newspaper her son had promised her he would score Sunday, Mother’s Day.
“I’ll score one for her every night if I could,” MacArthur said. “I’ll be trying to get one tonight.”
MacArthur couldn’t score Sunday. Mrs. MacArthur will have to settle for her son participating in the Leafs’ first home playoff win over Boston since March 31, 1959.
If the upstart Leafs roar back from a 3-1 series deficit and win Game 7 tonight in Boston, MacArthur’s Game 5 score might become part of local lore. Remember, this hockey-crazed city is tasting playoff action for the first time since 2004, a wait longer than MacArthur’s.
“Growing up, I was on winning teams all the time,” MacArthur said.
But MacArthur never won regularly in the big leagues until this season.
“I’ve cracked the egg now,” MacArthur said, “and I plan on being in the playoffs for many more years to come.”
He debuted in 2006-07, playing 19 regular-season games for a rollicking Sabres team. But as Buffalo won its last two playoff series that spring, MacArthur was in Rochester (his last playoff appearance before this year) or watching up close as one of the black aces, a scratch.
The Sabres missed the playoffs the next two seasons as MacArthur began earning regular duty.
Weeks before the Sabres secured the Northeast Division title in 2009-10, they traded him to Atlanta.
“I had a tough stretch through Buffalo,” MacArthur said. “I think the one year actually they were going to make it I went to Atlanta. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s been as good or as better as I thought it was going to be.”
MacArthur was an underrated forward on two bad Leafs teams, scoring 20 goals twice and a career-high 62 points in 2010-11. He slumped this season, though, getting scratched twice and battling two injuries while compiling only eight goals and 20 points in 40 games.
“It’s been something I’m not used to,” MacArthur said. “I’ve had a couple of injuries where I’ve had to miss and try to stay ready for those (chances). It’s been up and down that way.”
Additional talent has pushed MacArthur aside at times. Now, weeks from unrestricted free agency, it’s possible these are his finals days with the Leafs.
“When you get your chance, you want to make the best of it,” MacArthur said. “So far, I’m trying to do that right now.”