Did that just really happen? Or was this all a crazy dream? It’s the next day and I’m still not convinced this is real.
Somehow, we will have a Game 5 on Sunday night between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs. Game 4 seemingly was over. It was 3-0 Blue Jackets with just under four minutes to go. Morgan Rielly was seen on the bench visibly upset after things for most of the night didn’t go the Maple Leafs way.
For almost 57 minutes, the Blue Jackets were in control of things. But then, they lost control of everything.
In one of most chaotic three-minute stretches in NHL history, the Maple Leafs came all the way back just one night after blowing their own 3-0 lead. They scored three times all with Frederik Andersen pulled including the tying goal with just 22 seconds to go. Then eventually, Auston Matthews scored the game-winning goal on the power play.
The Blue Jackets followed up one of their best postseason games in franchise history with one that will likely be their most painful game. It was 3-0 and they seemed destined for the next round.
But then for some reason, they stopped playing their brand of hockey at the worst possible time. They allowed the Maple Leafs to do whatever they wanted on the ice. Room that wasn’t there all night suddenly was there in abundance. You could tell momentum was switching sides again. But this time, the Blue Jackets could do nothing to stop it.
Even in the midst of the madness, the Blue Jackets had chances to ice the game away. They missed three empty-net opportunities including one from Pierre-Luc Dubois that came within inches of going in only to have the puck go through the plastic on the side of the net. That miss signaled what was coming next.
As Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said postgame, they were getting CPR there for a little bit. But then they recovered to setup a winner-take-all game for the right to advance. The loser does get a small consolation prize of having a 1 in 8 chance of winning the right to select first at the 2020 NHL Draft.
Reason For Blue Jackets Optimism?
From a Blue Jackets’ perspective, there’s no sugar coating it. This was a meltdown of epic proportions. Their chances of winning at the four-minute mark was well over 99%. All they had to do was defend for three minutes. It didn’t happen.
As awful as this is for them, there actually is plenty of reason for optimism if you are a Blue Jackets fan. Let’s start by quickly revisiting the Maple Leafs’ onslaught.
All three of their goals were scored at 6-on-5. It’s not a power play but it might as well be. That means the Blue Jackets for almost 57 minutes played the way they wanted to at 5-on-5. They’ve proven throughout the series that as long as they stay out of the box and play their brand of hockey, they can be successful.
And no matter how you want to evaluate the craziness of Game 4, it’s still only one game. The Maple Leafs comeback makes the series 2-2. It didn’t matter if they won 8-0 or 4-3 in overtime, it’s still just one win. Game 5 is a fresh start for the Blue Jackets. If nothing else, the Game 4 result reinforces in the strongest way possible that they have to play their brand of hockey for 60 minutes without letting up.
What’s done is done. You can’t change the result now. The Blue Jackets will wake up on Sunday morning with a chance to advance to the next round. If there’s another reason for optimism, it’s that there is enough leadership within that room to realize the situation and not let Game 4 affect their Game 5 performance. They’ll be ready to go.
It’s all hands on deck with the season on the line. If we’ve learned anything about the Blue Jackets this season, it’s to never give up on them. If they play Game 5 like they did the first 56+ minutes of Game 4, they’ll be just fine.
- The big news to watch will be the status of Zach Werenski. He left the game in the third period and never returned. Cameras caught the trainer working on his neck. Tortorella did not have an update as to Werenski’s status. If he can’t play, that’s a huge blow for the Blue Jackets. They have Saturday off so we won’t know anything until gameday.
- You can’t pin Game 4 on Elvis Merzlikins. He was outstanding despite the ending. He finished the night with 49 saves on 53 shots. As long as his defense is doing their job, Merzlikins is good enough to do the rest. As for who will start Game 5, it’s up in the air but given how Merzlikins played most of the night, you’d expect him to get the call. But we’ll see.
- So here’s what will happen to the loser of Game 5. They will get a 12.5% chance of landing the top pick at the NHL Draft. Should they not get the pick, there’s a couple of scenarios in play. If it’s the Blue Jackets, they could pick 13th or 14th. They would pick 14th if the Penguins or Oilers win the lottery. Otherwise they would pick 13th. If it’s the Maple Leafs, it depends if they win the lottery. If they do win, they pick first. If they don’t, they must transfer their pick to Carolina thanks to the Patrick Marleau deal and then the Hurricanes would pick either 13th or 14th.
- Game 5 starts Sunday night at 8 P.M. The NHL Draft Phase 2 Lottery is Monday night at 6 P.M.