Blue Jackets Enter Bubble With Hidden Advantage

Generally speaking, you are as good on any given night as your starting goaltender.

If your starting goalie pitches a shutout, you will win. If they give up four goals in the first period, chances are you can’t wait for the game to be over. That can’t come soon enough.

The concept of good goaltending sounds simple but its importance cannot be understated. That importance is only magnified when you’re talking about a five-game series to advance.

For the Columbus Blue Jackets, they have an important question to answer in goal. Who’s going to start Game 1 of their best-of-five series against the Toronto Maple Leafs?

Coach John Tortorella told the local media on Monday that he has no clue who is going to start but did add, “they will decide that for us.”

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What does Tortorella mean? He is saying that whichever goaltender performs better in practice and in scrimmages leading up to the bubble will get the nod to start. It’s a hard decision because both goalies can play and give the Blue Jackets a great chance to win on any given night.

While some may look at this situation as agonizing, the opposite is actually true. It’s a luxury.

Luxury Is The Hidden Advantage

We wrote a while back about how the Blue Jackets’ goaltending is in a luxurious position. When you have two capable goalies who can each start for long stretches when necessary and play well when called upon, it’s a great position to be in.

We will start seeing that luxury come Aug 2 when their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs gets underway. Why you may ask?

That’s because Tortorella has options. In a five-game series, the more viable options you have, the better off you are.

Let’s say for instance Joonas Korpisalo gets the nod in Game 1 but struggles mightily. Tortorella has Elvis Merzlikins in waiting and can put him in either during the game or at the start of Game 2.

Tortorella doesn’t have to wait or hope that Korpisalo figures it out. By the time he figures out, it could be too late. Merzlikins then can step in and give his team a much needed boost.

Having two solid goaltenders is going to give teams coming into the bubble a potential leg up. If one struggles, the other can come in and the team doesn’t take a huge hit.

John Tortorella Columbus Blue Jackets
No matter who starts Game 1, John Tortorella has two viable options at his disposal. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Two Better Than One, Right?

However teams that ride just one goaltender have to hope they don’t struggle. Speaking of the Maple Leafs, what if Frederik Andersen struggles? Can coach Sheldon Keefe go to Jack Campbell with the season on the line? Maybe.

But in the case of the Maple Leafs, their potential run to a Stanley Cup goes through Andersen. If he plays up to his potential, the Maple Leafs are a dangerous opponent. If he falls short, they’ll be gone in five games or less.

That’s where the Blue Jackets hold a hidden advantage in this series. Their 1A/1B goaltending situation is a huge blessing for them. No matter who Tortorella decides to go with in Game 1, he has the option of making a switch where it won’t downgrade their overall chances. If the Maple Leafs do have to pull Andersen, it means they’re in deep trouble. That’s not necessarily true if the Blue Jackets have to pull someone.

In Conclusion

We know this series is going to be a battle of the Maple Leafs’ high-powered offense vs. the stout Blue Jackets’ defense. But goaltending will absolutely decide how this series will go.

Andersen hasn’t enjoyed playoff success since arriving in Toronto. Now that he doesn’t have to see the Boston Bruins in their first series, will this finally be the time he rises up and advances in the playoffs? It’s on his shoulders to make it happen.

While it is clear the Maple Leafs have the advantage in star power and offense, the Blue Jackets have the more desirable defensive and goaltending situation. All they need is for one of them to get hot in this short series.

But in the end, the Blue Jackets have goaltending options and the Maple Leafs have their eggs in one goaltending basket. Which approach will win this series?

Don’t sleep on these Blue Jackets. Just ask the Tampa Bay Lightning what happens if you sleep on them.