Clarkson scored a breakaway goal at 5:47 of the third period that proved to be the game-winner in a 3-2 victory against the Calgary Flames on Tuesday that snapped Toronto's eight-game losing streak.
"That's great for [Clarkson]. Numbers aren't always everything," Maple Leafs defenseman Cody Franson said. "[Clarkson's] been a guy that went out and worked hard every night for us, he's just tried to be very physical and create a lot on our cycles. You can't judge a guy just by numbers. I think he's brought a lot more to the table than people give him credit for, and we're happy for him that he got that one tonight."
Mason Raymond sprung Clarkson on a breakaway, and he beat Flames goalie Karri Ramo for his first goal since Feb. 4 against the Florida Panthers and his first point in 17 games. He has 11 points this season.
"To be rewarded tonight... it wasn't from lack of effort, what was going on," Clarkson said. "But I think tonight, [goaltender Jonathan Bernier] made some big saves for us and we capitalized on our chances and that's how you win games."
Clarkson's goal gave the Maple Leafs a 3-1 lead, but the Flames made the Air Canada Centre crowd nervous when Kris Russell scored his sixth goal of the season at 7:24 of the third. Russell found room alone in the faceoff circle to the left of Bernier (22 saves) and snapped a wrist shot over his shoulder.
"We could've just quit at 3-1 but I thought we really took over momentum, but at the same time we've got to start building that momentum before we get down and start playing with some leads and gaining some leads," Russell said.
Toronto (37-32-8) moved within one point of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the second Eastern Conference wild-card position in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"Obviously it's so much better feeling then what we've been able to enjoy over the last little while," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "Now you can build on it. But I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, because we didn't paint the Mona Lisa here tonight."
The Maple Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead 50 seconds into the second period when Jay McClement scored his fourth goal of the season. McClement batted a cross-crease pass from defenseman Cody Franson behind Ramo, who finished with 19 saves.
"There are different contributions from different guys on every night," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "In a game like that where it is so tight -- both teams at one point the shots were 10 or 12 each. There was not a lot going on."
Calgary thought it had tied the game at 6:53 when forward Curtis Glencross knocked down a point shot from defenseman Chris Butler and the puck went past Bernier. But a video review determined that the puck was deflected into the net with a high stick, and the goal was waved off.
The Flames got a goal that counted at 16:55 when Matt Stajan beat Bernier on a breakaway. Stajan took a lead pass from defenseman T.J. Brodie, got in behind the defense, deked Bernier and slipped the puck underneath him for his 13th goal of the season.
"We've been in every game, we know that," Flames captain Mark Giordano said. "We work hard, we battle right to the end. It's disappointing when you lose ones like tonight because I thought 1-1 going into the third is a good spot on the road and the two goals we gave up were goals we haven't usually given up all season so it's tough."
Dave Bolland put Toronto ahead to stay 2:16 into the third period with his eighth goal of the season. Bolland took a pass from defenseman Morgan Rielly and banked the puck off the stick of Brodie and past Ramo.
"It's just a bad break," Giordano said. "It's a natural reaction to try and react to the puck and it was really a bad break. I just told him we'll try and get one back on the next shift."
It was Bolland's second goal since he returned from a cut ankle tendon on March 22.
"He finds a way to get on the score sheet and score important goals," Carlyle said. "I don't know how he scored the goal tonight. The puck was in the corner and somehow, whatever, he swept the puck across the goal crease and it hit somebody's foot, went in the net. All of the goals he scores, he scores most of those goals are from 10 or 15 feet and there doesn't seem to a goalie in the net. Good for him."
Brodie's mistake capped off an up-and-down game for the 23-year-old defenseman.
"I don't know where we would be without T.J. Brodie," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "He's been so good for us since the start of the year. I can't even call this a bad night, I would call this a night full of bad luck for T.J. He's a worker and he was involved in every play -- it didn't work out for him tonight."
Defenseman Paul Ranger returned to the Maple Leafs lineup for the first time since he suffered an injured neck against the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 19.