Shades of last year’s Game 1 vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning! Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets were down 3-0 (to the Toronto Maple Leafs this time) and finished with four straight goals, the last in OT. Pierre-Luc Dubois had a hat trick, only his second in his three-year NHL career.
But while Columbus fans have much to celebrate today – one more victory over Toronto sends the Blue Jackets into the Stanley Cup Playoffs – it was not a beautiful win last night. The Blue Jackets special teams were, well, not so special. They gave up a shorthanded goal and a power-play goal, and they failed to score on either of their own power plays.
Of course, any discussion off highlights from Game 3 must start with Dubois. His only previous hat trick in the NHL came almost 2-1/2 years ago, March 29, 2018, in his rookie season. Trivia: That was the game in which John Tortorella became the Blue Jackets’ all-time leader in coaching wins. (Dubois also has seven career two-goal games.)
The contributions of other forwards can’t be overlooked. Cam Atkinson had a pair of assists (and three blocked shots and a plus-3 for the game), Boone Jenner had a team-high eight shots (and a crossbar), and then there was Alexandre Texier. He had an assist, five shots, a team-leading four takeaways, and was plus-2 for the game.
Texier was skating alongside Dubois in what were basically two-on-one plays for both the game-tying goal and the OT winner. His 25:50 time on ice was 3rd among Blue Jackets forwards, trailing only Atkinson (30:09) and Dubois (27:30). He also contributed to keeping Toronto superstars Auston Matthews and John Tavares to a combined four shots.
The Blue Jackets’ numbers also showed some good aspects to the game. They won almost half of the faceoffs (led by Riley Nash, 11 of 20), they were whistled for only two minor penalties, the skaters combined for 20 blocked shots, and Columbus outshot Toronto 43-36 (with each team‘s defense providing 13 of the shots).
Despite giving up three goals and getting pulled just prior to the halfway point of the 2nd period, Joonas Korpisalo looked good in goal, with several of his dozen saves rather spectacular. Elvis Merzlikins saved 21 of 21 shots in just under 50 minutes in goal.
To be complete and fair, “Looking Good” must also include a couple of Maple Leafs. Rookie Nick Robertson had his 1st NHL goal and a couple of additional good looks. Auston Matthews blocked four shots (no, it wasn’t an imposter) and was very noticeable on the backcheck early in the game. Defenseman Morgan Rielly led the team in TOI (32:26), had four shots (despite only four seconds of power-play time) and four blocked shots, and ended the game with a plus/minus of zero.
Looking Not So Good
Toronto’s 1st goal would have gone well wide of the net had it not bounced off Seth Jones’ boot. He also seemed to be chasing the play a number of times. It’s only an impression, but over the 1st three games of the series, Jones seems to look best when he simplifies his game and doesn’t try to do too much. His goal last night, for example, came on a shot from above the top of the circle rather than on one of his many trips down low in the offensive zone.
Special teams, both the power play and the penalty kill, left much to be desired. Allowing a shorthanded goal and a power-play goal are what put Columbus in a hole. And although Dubois’ 1st goal came just eight seconds after the end of a power play, all five Maple Leafs skaters were involved in the defense and below the faceoff dots when he scored. It was definitely a five-on-five goal.
On Toronto’s power-play goal, Jones and Zack Werenski allowed both William Nylander (the scorer) and Tavares to get behind them. In the words of CBJ TV color commentator Jody Shelley, “Jones was just late to get that stick on stick.”
Markus Nutivaara replaced Dean Kukan on the 3rd defensive pair, skating with Ryan Murray. His 17:47 TOI was the lowest among Columbus D men, with zero time on the power play or penalty kill. Only Nutivaara (minus-1) and Murray (minus-2) were minus players among the defense. They combined for one shot (Nutivaara), only three blocked shots, no takeaways, and two giveaways (both Nutivaara). Nutivaara and Murray were unable to get back into the defensive zone quickly enough to prevent Robertson’s goal.
Coach John Tortorella didn’t seem to have much faith in his 4th line, keeping them to under 10 minutes TOI each. Emil Bemstrom (7:48, 1:48 PP), Alexander Wennberg (8:51, 0:56 SH), and Eric Robinson (9:02, no special teams) combined for zero shots, one blocked shot, and two giveaways.
Coming Up Next
It’s right back into the fire, with Game 4 scheduled for 8 PM EST this evening. Twenty-four hours between opening faceoffs isn’t something most players want to experience, especially not following overtime. And especially in a short series. We’ll see who Tortorella goes to both in goal and as the 6th defenseman.
This could be the series-clinching game for the Blue Jackets. Or the Maple Leafs could force a Game 5 (which would be Sunday, game time yet to be announced). As I hoped and predicted (“toot-toot” – that was me blowing my own horn) this has been the series to watch in the Qualifying Round.