The Maple Leafs joined Edmonton as hub cities on the brink with a devastating 4-3 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday night. Toronto now trails in the best-of-five playoff-qualifying series 2-1, and could be eliminated with another loss when the teams meet again on Friday night.
Columbus won with 1:36 left in the first overtime period on Pierre-Luc Dubois’s third goal of the game.
Toronto blew a 3-0 lead in the second period and a 3-1 lead in the third. Columbus tied it with goals by Seth Jones and Dubois.
The team that has won Game 3 after splitting the first two in a five-game postseason series is 21-7 in NHL history. The Maple Leafs are in danger of being bounced out of the playoffs early for the fourth successive year. In the three previous seasons they were eliminated in the first round. This time would be all the more disappointing if they don’t get through the qualifying round.
The Oilers trail the Blackhawks in their series, also 2-1, with Game 4 on Friday evening at Rogers Place.
“I feel that the game got away from us,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We just got what we deserved. We didn’t play with any purpose or plan.”
Columbus was so badly outplayed in a Game 2 loss on Tuesday that its coach, John Tortorella, screamed at players on his bench. The Blue Jackets looked as though they were headed for defeat again until they systematically wiped away Toronto’s lead.
The Maple Leafs had got ahead on goals from defenceman Cody Ceci, William Nylander and rookie Nick Robertson. It was the first time in 57 games that Ceci has scored, and it was the first goal of the 18-year-old Robertson’s NHL career.
Elvis Merzlikins, who entered the game in the second period after Joonas Korpisalo allowed three goals on 15 shots, got the win in net for the Blue Jackets. Merzlikins saved all 21 shots that he faced.
Frederik Andersen played well in the crease for Toronto. He gave up the four goals on 43 shots.
The Maple Leafs played without veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin, who suffered a neck injury near the end of the second game. He was taken to the hospital for tests after he struck his head against an opposing player’s knee and lost feeling in his extremities.
Muzzin was discharged overnight and returned to the team’s hotel but is unavailable for the rest of this series because he is sequestered in quarantine per the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols.. The team has not given an update on the exact nature of his injury.
Travis Dermott replaced Muzzin on the second line. The two played together multiple times during the regular season when Muzzin was sidelined with injuries. Holl feels comfortable playing with Dermott.
“I like the way we were playing before the pause and I think [Dermott] stepped in there really nicely and played really well,” Holl said during a video call early in the day.. “He’s fast, very good offensively, and very dependable defensively. I have no doubts about his abilities.”
Without Muzzin in the lineup, head coach Sheldon Keefe also had to shuffle the other defensive pairings. Ceci and Morgan Rielly combined on the first line, and Martin Marincin joined Tyson Barrie on the third. The rookie Rasmus Sandin was added as a seventh defenceman.
The Maple Leafs were outplayed in Game 1 but put in a dominating performance two nights later. They outshot the Blue Jackets 39-20. The only reason the final was kept to 3-0 was because of play of Korpisalo.
Keefe, who played briefly as a defenceman under Tortorella when he coached Tampa Bay, expected a better response from Columbus in game three.
“I’m fully expecting that they are going to be a whole lot better, as we are going to have to be better at the same time,” Keefe said earlier Thursday.
Both teams were.
Columbus was much sharper in a tightly played first period. Both goalies were superb. Korpisalo stopped a hard wrist shot by Jonn Tavares five minutes in. Andersen then snatched a crisp wrist shot from 32 feet out by Oilver Bjorkstrand. Toronto’s Kasperi Kapanen got loose but was denied on a backhand as he crossed in front of the net. Boone Jenner missed an opportunity to put the Blue Jackets ahead when he rattled a shot off the crossbar
It was shaping into another battle between net minders. In the first two games, Korpisalo and Andersen stopped a combined 118 of 121 shots.
The Maple Leafs were given the game’s first penalty on an interference call against Dermott with 2:17 remaining before intermission. But Toronto turned the tables on Columbus, scoring short-handed on a long slap shot by Ceci that pin-balled into the net off the foot of Seth Jones, the Blue Jackets’ fine defenceman, with 1:08 left in the period.
Toronto added to its lead on a power-play goal seven minutes into the second. It was Nylander’s first goal of the postseason after scoring 31 in the coronavirus-shortened regular season. Robertson scored less than two minutes late.
Robertson’s goal brought an end to Korpisalo’s night. A referee saved the puck and turned it over to the Maple Leafs bench as a keepsake for the rookie, who made the team off of summer camp. He has never played a regular-season game in the NHL.
“To see a guy that works hard, you want [his first goal] to come sooner than later,” Dermott told Rogers Sportsnet during the break between the second and third periods. “It was priceless. It is a dream come true for him.”
Dubois flipped a puck over the sprawling Andersen to get Columbus on the board with 8:21 left in the second period. The goal trimmed the deficit to 3-1. Seth Jones wired in a hard wrist shot with 12:33 remaining and then Dubois scored again to tie it at 3 a little more than three minutes later.
The overtime encounter produced a combined 79 shots, 75 faceoffs, 46 hits and 44 blocked shots.
The Maple Leafs are now one loss away from disaster against a lower-seeded team.
“We uncderstand what’s facing us,” John Tavares, the Toronto captain, said. “We have to refocus and regroup.”