The Columbus Blue Jackets had a plan. They executed their plan to perfection in their 2-0 victory in Game 1 of their Stanley Cup Qualifer series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
What did we learn from this game?
1. Joonas Korpisalo Shined Brightly
The night belonged to Joonas Korpisalo. Making his postseason debut for the Blue Jackets, he made it a night he will never forget.
Korpisalo turned away all 28 shots to record the first shutout in Blue Jackets’ postseason history. He was brilliant all night. But it was his save on Auston Matthews in the second period that was by far his best.
Matthews was able to get into the slot and it seemed like the game was about to be 1-0 Maple Leafs. But instead, Korpisalo reached out and gloved the shot down. From that point on, you could tell the Blue Jackets had momentum on their side.
Every time the Maple Leafs pressed, Korpisalo had an answer. He was confidence and played his position well. He demonstrated excellent rebound control. He kept the Blue Jackets in the game all night until they finally connected on a goal in the third period.
Korpisalo spent several seasons on the bench as Sergei Bobrovsky’s backup. Sunday night was his chance to show that he was ready for his opportunity. Captain Nick Foligno said Korpisalo paid his dues and deserved this opporunity. He didn’t disappoint.
Korpisalo now hasn’t allowed a goal in the bubble in approximately 90 minutes of ice time. He will need to continue this level of play for the Blue Jackets to advance. Toronto is far from done.
2. The Maple Leafs Had No Room
Speaking of the Leafs, did you see the goings on in the neutral zone all night? There was just no room to be had. The Maple Leafs tried their stretch passes but couldn’t get anything going.
The Blue Jackets did an outstanding job of coverage all night. No matter what movement the Maple Leafs made, there were defenders waiting at every turn.
This was especially noticeable against the big guns of Matthews and Mitch Marner. They make a habit of constantly moving in an effort to get open. The Blue Jackets were ready for it and kept up with their coverage most of the night. When there was an opportunity, Korpisalo answered it.
Seth Jones and Zach Werenski each saw a lot of the Matthews line and enjoyed an advantage. Werenski even went as far as checking his good buddy into the wall. But it was Jones that followed Matthews around a lot and kept him under control. Jones finished the night with seven hits.
The other forwards for the Maple Leafs were mostly invisible. As Zach Hyman said postgame, “this is playoff hockey.” If they hope to even this series, they must finish their chances and find room to operate. They had no room in Game 1 and got the result they deserved.
3. Cam Atkinson’s Huge Goal
Atkinson’s season has been down by his standards. But early in the third period, he found himself streaking down the right wing and put a shot on goal that Frederik Andersen couldn’t handle. The goal made it 1-0.
Thanks to a smothering defense that didn’t allow a shot on goal to the Maple Leafs in the last 6:12, Atkinson’s goal was the game-winning goal. This could kick start his game into high gear. He believes it will.
“I closed my eyes,” Atkinson said postgame. “I kind of knew where I wanted to shoot. I wasn’t really expecting it to go in, but obviously one of those I’ll take. A goal like that gives me a lot of momentum and juice, and I started feeling a lot better about my game after that.”
Tortorella hopes this is the start of something good for Atkinson.
“I thought Cam played a good game,” Tortorella said. “For a goal scorer, a guy that has struggled a little bit as we’ve gone through, hopefully that will loosen him up a bit. The play I like about his game was the last play, the empty-net goal, he just gets run over but he makes the play to get the puck out, and that’s a really big play for us. As far as the goal scorers, they want to score goals. Hopefully that will help his confidence.”
Atkinson is most effective when his energy is high not only in scoring goals but also making plays. His play helped set up the empty-net goal by Alexander Wennberg to seal the game.
If Atkinson can turn his game on, it gives this postseason a different feeling for the Blue Jackets. They hope it’s a sign of things to come.
A First Look at Game 2
- The Blue Jackets ran the same lines at practice Monday so don’t expect any changes to the lineup. Korpisalo is your expected starter.
- The Maple Leafs made one change to their lines putting Pierre Engvall at center.
- Penalties will be a big key to watch. The Blue Jackets only took one penalty on Sunday and the Maple Leafs didn’t score. Will the Blue Jackets continue to stay out of the box? The more 5-on-5 there is, the better off the Blue Jackets will be.
- The Leafs are saying the right things. Sheldon Keefe said his team is not frustrated. Marner said they have more in their game to bring out. They are also not panicking. Can their play back up these words? If not, they could be on the brink of an early elimination on their home ice.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois was outstanding in Game 1. We’re starting to see the force he could become. He’s on the verge of a breakthrough. If he plays like he did Sunday, we might see that breakthrough soon.
- Game 2 starts at 4:00 P.M eastern time.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.