I suppose I have to credit the Columbus Blue Jackets and coach John Tortorella for mounting a comeback from a 3-0 deficit to win in overtime 4-3, but it’s tough. Honestly, the more I see and hear the Blue Jackets head coach talk to almost anyone, the more I find his shtick tiresome and banal. That said, he’s obviously a good coach who finds a way to win, which is exactly what happened in Game 3.
In NHL playoff hockey, things can change in a hurry. Columbus swapped goalies after Nick Robertson’s goal (Joonas Korpisalo came out of the game and Elvis Merzlikins entered) and Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a hat trick to get back in the good books of his coach, with whom he had a yelling match only one game before. Dubois’ hat trick was the first in Blue Jackets’ playoff history.
In this edition of Maple Leafs News & Rumors, I’ll discuss a number of the Maple Leafs’ highlights from Game 3 – and there were some – as well as look forward to what happens later today when the teams go up against each other once again. It’s a quick turnaround, which probably mentally benefits the Maple Leafs.
Item One: Nick Robertson Scores His First NHL Goal
I had wished in my last post that Robertson might score his first career goal during Game 3, and he did. Although I didn’t think that when Robertson gave his team a 3-0 lead, the Maple Leafs might just lose this best-of-five series. However, even if they do, the franchise won’t be dissolved. I believe they’ve found a player in Robertson. To my eyes, he’s looked good all series.
Robertson gave the Maple Leafs what looked like an insurmountable lead scoring his 3-0 goal midway through the second period. At the time, it seemed plenty enough scoring to ice the cake for the Maple Leafs, especially the way they were able to break down the Columbus defense over the first half of the game. The Blue Jackets defense and goalie play had been frustrating, but Columbus had struggled offensively during the series so holding them under four goals in a half-a-game seemed doable. Not so much.
As for Robertson, Maple Leafs fans know the 18-year-old had come off a great OHL season with 55 goals and 86 points in only 46 games with the Peterborough Petes. He hasn’t looked out of place during the qualifying series and I can’t imagine a scenario where he won’t be part of the roster during the 2020-21 season – whenever that might be.
Item Two: Cody Ceci Scores Shorthanded
Cody Ceci scored only one goal during the regular season (and seven assists), and it also came against the Blue Jackets. Last night he scored the first goal of the game (shorthanded) late in the first period. He also recorded three hits in the overtime loss.
The 26-year-old Ceci has been the defensive yin for Morgan Rielly’s offensive yang. He obviously isn’t known for his offense, but his defense seems to allow Rielly to become an important part of the offense. It’s been a deployment two Maple Leafs coaches – as different as they are and think – have utilized during the 2019-20 season.
Item Three: Frederik Andersen Reverts to Regular-Season Save Percentage
Frederik Andersen’s regular-season record was 29-13-7 with a goals-against-average of 2.85 and a save percentage of .909. Last night he gave up four goals on 43 shots, which is a save percentage of .907. He made some good saves and looked confident but he couldn’t stop the Blue Jackets when he needed to.
It’s hard to fault Andersen’s play during this series. He’s only given up five goals in 97 shots (for a .948 save percentage), which is good in anyone’s book. Although Andersen has only played both games of a back-to-back once in the regular season and at the time he had to beg to do it, it’s hard to imagine that Sheldon Keefe would put Jack Campbell in goal for this important game. However, had the Maple Leafs won, that might have been a different set of optics. (from “UPDATE: Leafs go with Frederik Andersen again against Avalanche, Kevin McGran, The Star, 04/12/19)
Item Four: William Nylander’s Quick Reflexes Result in His Power-Play Goal
William Nylander jumped on a puck to score a power-play goal on four shots in the loss to the Blue Jackets. Although Nylander has looked threatening during the series, he doesn’t have much to show with only a goal and an assist in the three games in this series after scoring 31 goals and 59 points in 68 games during the regular season.
Item Five: Mitch Marner Gets an Assist on Nylander’s Goal
Should the Maple Leafs lose this series, one of the big questions might be how Blue Jackets neutralized prolific Maple Leafs winger Mitch Marner. The 23-year-old Marner has been effectively shut down by the Blue Jackets’ play.
In general, it’s been a tough qualifying series for Marner, who’s always expected to lead his team offensively. I’m interested to see how he engages in today’s must-win Game 4.
Item Six: Auston Matthews Registers 4 Blocked Shots
Like Marner, Auston Matthews had an assist on Nylander’s goal. The interesting statistic for me is that he blocked four shots against the Blue Jackets in Game 3. So far during the series, Matthews has been a point-per-game player. He’s drawn the defensive attention of the Blue Jackets but has still looked strong. Similar to Marner, his offense will likely be needed if the team is to win Game 4.
Item Seven: Both Kasperi Kapanen and Alex Kerfoot Record 2 Assists
Although the Maple Leafs are down two games to one against the Blue Jackets, it’s hard to fault the third line. Both Kasperi Kapanen and Alex Kerfoot have also played well on the penalty kill. In yesterday’s game, both players had two assists, with both assisting on Ceci’s shorthanded goal.
For Kapanen, they were his first two points of the series. After scoring 13 goals and 36 points in 69 regular-season games, his role has changed during the postseason. He’s played a feisty game and to my eyes, hasn’t looked bad.
Kerfoot also scored two assists (one on Robertson’s first-ever NHL goal), and now has three assists in the series. Rumors seem to be swirling that Kerfoot will be trade bait during the offseason, and I don’t think he’s done anything during this series to lesson his market value. However, I also think the Maple Leafs have had a chance to see how his contribution might be expanded next season should he remain on the roster, which I think he will. Although he only scored 28 points in 65 regular-season games, the 25-year-old is a solid third-liner with a particular skill of being able to read the game well.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
For his part, I believe head coach Sheldon Keefe has played the Game 3 loss well. Instead of whining, he said something like his team got what it deserved. That said, I might also quietly – out of earshot of his players – make a point about the lack of penalties called on the Blue Jackets throughout the series. They’re a good defensive team, but they also seem to get away with a number of what seemed to be penalties that weren’t called.
I’m interested to watch the officiating during Game 4. That matters to a team that carries and passes the puck as well as the Maple Leafs.