On Oct. 21, 2019, after a 4-3 OT win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella told reporters: “We’re supposed to suck this year.” This was in response to many pundits who wrote them off as a lost cause after the departure of Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Matt Duchene in the offseason.
Nearly ten months and a 3-2 series win over the Maple Leafs later, they find themselves in the first round of the playoffs once again. That’s further than Panarin, Duchene, and Bobrovsky made it with their new teams.
This piece will discuss which Blue Jackets are responsible for this series win and their playoff berth as well as exactly what they did to help the team to victory.
Atkinson Continues to Shine Against the Toronto Maple Leafs
In his career, Cam Atkinson has enjoyed his fair share of success against the Maple Leafs. In 19 games, he has scored 13 points (six goals and seven assists). In order for the Blue Jackets to advance, he knew his success would need to continue.
Needless to say, Atkinson again showed up. He finished the five-game series with five points (two goals, three assists), a rating of plus-4, and 13 shots on goal. His two goals also included the game-winning goal in Game 1 and his three assists included one on the game-tying goal in Game 3 to send it to OT, helping secure a Game 3 victory.
Atkinson not only played well, but he also played well in clutch moments such as late in Game 1 and Game 3. His five points were a key factor in the Blue Jackets’ victory. If they hope to advance past the Tampa Bay Lightning, he’s going to need to be at the top of his game again.
Dubois Scores the Blue Jackets’ First Playoff Hat Trick
Another big piece of the puzzle centerman Pierre-Luc Dubois. Coming into this series, he had been great against the Maple Leafs, scoring five points (four of them goals) in just eight games.
Dubois’ play didn’t start great, but after a heated discussion with Tortorella on the bench during the Game 2 loss, his play took off. Over the last three games of the series, he had four points, three of them were in Game 3 when the Blue Jackets were facing a 3-0 deficit. Dubois put the team on his back and scored the franchise’s first-ever playoff hat trick, including the game-winning goal in overtime to cap the team’s comeback.
What we saw from Dubois can be best described as a coming-out party. He is young and starting to find his way in the league. In this series, he proved that he is capable of being a top center. The Blue Jackets are going to need him to continue his high level of play if they hope to advance to the second round.
Liam Foudy Begins Shows What He Is Capable Of
The Blue Jackets have a lot of young talent and, to win the qualifying round, the team knew they would need to step up. They did just that, including centerman Liam Foudy.
Foudy scored one point against the Maple Leafs, his first career goal. He fired from a sharp angle and got past goaltender Frederik Anderson. That goal put the Blue Jackets up 2-0 in Game 5, all but giving them the series win.
Foudy may not have lit up the stat sheet in this series, but he did make a big difference. For a young player, he has a high hockey IQ, seems to always make the right play, and doesn’t take unnecessary risks. He knows how to use his speed to get separation and to create chances for himself and his teammates.
He has the ability to become a top playmaker and an offensive threat. Foudy didn’t make mistakes that cost the team and his speed created many offensive chances in this series. If he can continue to play the way he did in this series, he will be a big advantage against the Lightning.
Korpisalo Rises to the Occasion
The biggest factor in this series was Joonas Korpisalo. He had two of his best starts as an NHL goaltender in this series. He was pulled in Game 3, but even in that game, other than a shaky second period, he still played well.
Korpisalo finished the best-of-five series with a 2-1 record, a .956 save percentage (SV%), a 1.45 goals-against average (GAA), and two shutouts. Coming into this series, the Maple Leafs had 238 goals for, which ranked 3rd in the NHL, but Korpisalo was able to hold them to just five goals through four games. Furthermore, Auston Mattews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares combined for 89 goals over the season, and Korpisalo only allowed them to score two combined.
Korpisalo’s shutout in Game 1 was the first playoff shutout in franchise history. They weren’t easy wins either. In each shutout, he made difficult saves, such as in Game 1 on a great chance from Matthews right in front of the Blue Jackets’ net. Korpisalo got to his shot and made a great glove save.
If Korpisalo is capable of shutting down the Maple Leafs’ big guns, he is capable of doing the same to the Lightning in the first round. If he continues to play at this high of a level, the Blue Jackets will be able to defeat Tampa in the first round again.
The Blue Jackets Move On
The Blue Jackets are moving on to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row, in a rematch with the Lightning who they upset last season. If the above players perform can as they did in the qualifying round, and the team can get contributions from more players, they will win this series in six games.