Two days after being shutout in the opening game of their qualifying series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Toronto Maple Leafs turned the table and did the exact same to their play-in opponents.
That is, on Tuesday night, the Maple Leafs – behind a strong performance from Frederik Andersen – took home a 3-0 victory to even the series with the Blue Jackets at one win apiece.
While the score was one-sided, there were a number of pieces to the game worth talking about. With that, here’s what we took away from the Game 2 win for the Maple Leafs.
Clifford Setting the Tone
After playing just 3:21 in Game 1, Kyle Clifford saw a bump in ice-time and earned every minute of playing time. While I would still argue that he should see a little more time, Clifford jumped up to 7:36 in Game 2 and made some noise early – setting the tone for the Maple Leafs.
After the Maple Leafs were dominated physically in Game 1, it was important for the team to come out strong in the second game to show that they weren’t going to get pushed around as easily and that’s where Clifford comes in.
He finished the game with one shot and two hits, but it was one hit in particular that ruffled the feathers of those in Blue Jackets’ uniforms. It was a hit on defenceman Dean Kukan that sent the Blue Jackets blueliner to the quiet room that really earned Clifford some more ice-time. But most of all, it let the Blue Jackets know that the Maple Leafs came to play on Tuesday afternoon.
Coming Out Quick and Heavy
On top of Clifford running around, the Maple Leafs showed early that they were going to dominate the possession game. Nine minutes into the contest, the Maple Leafs had out shot the Blue Jackets nine to three and it didn’t slow down throughout the game.
The final shot totals were 39 for the Maple Leafs and 20 for the Blue Jackets and it makes it a lot easier to win when you’re only giving up 20 shots per game.
But one thing that was even more noticeable than the shots the Maple Leafs were getting on net was their compete level – their speed in which they were able to control the game and the puck for the majority of the game.
Their ability to move their feet throughout the contest allowed them to open up the play more so than they had in Game 1 and led to a number of chances on the power play with the Blue Jackets taking a number of lazy penalties throughout the game.
It seemed a little more like the Maple Leafs had strayed from trying to beat the Blue Jackets’ game and focused more on playing their speedy, puck control game that made them successful during the regular season.
Power Play on Empty
Now, just because the Maple Leafs got power plays doesn’t mean they were successful. In fact, they were handed five power plays in Game 2 and the team went without a goal on the man advantage.
Fortunately for the Maple Leafs, the Blue Jackets had the same amount of success on their power play opportunities in the second game of the series, going without a goal on four chances.
Combined, the two clubs have gone 12 power plays without a goal to open the series and it’s not because of the lack of skill between the two teams. In fact, given the opportunities, one of these teams is going to break out on the man advantage and it could be a deciding factor in how this series plays out.
Shutting the Door
In the same way the Blue Jackets closed out their 2-0 win on Sunday, the Maple Leafs were able to shut things down late in their 3-0 victory on Tuesday. Something that hasn’t always been a strong point in the Maple Leafs’ game, they were able to shut the door in the third period despite Columbus getting two late power play opportunities.
Andersen wasn’t overly busy, but the third period was his busiest of the three. That said, he stopped all eight shots he faced in the frame and earned his third career playoff shutout and the first as a Maple Leaf.
He also became the first Maple Leafs’ goaltender since Ed Belfour on April 16, 2004, to earn a postseason shutout.
But it wasn’t just Andersen that got it done. In fact, seeing that he saw just 20 shots in the game, the Maple Leafs were able to play a solid defensive game in front of him to earn a big team win.
The Blue Jackets had 47 shot attempts with less than half of those actually reaching Andersen which speaks to what was done within the team’s defensive end by the players in front of him – a job they will need to continue doing if they are to see themselves deep into the playoffs.
Muzzin and the Others
Finally, this game didn’t end without some worrisome news. While the Blue Jackets saw – what could be minor – injuries to two of their players in Kukan and Zach Werenski, who had his wrist taped up early in the game, the Maple Leafs weren’t so fortunate.
With 1:52 left in the game, Maple Leafs’ defenceman Jake Muzzin fell awkwardly after being hit by Pierre-Luc Dubois in the Maple Leafs’ end. His head snapped back and Muzzin laid on the ice for several minutes before being stretchered off and taken to hospital.
While there wasn’t any immediate update from the team, Muzzin was reportedly moving all of his extremities which can only be taken as a positive for the team and the player.
Another question that arose from the injury was that Muzzin was forced to go to an outside-the-bubble hospital. Now, while speculation swirls of whether or not he would have to quarantine upon his return, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported that there were a number of factors that would play into the decision and it would be up to the discretion of the medical staff inside the bubble one when he would officially be allowed to return.
Also Worth Noting…
Until he scored the Maple Leafs second goal, John Tavares couldn’t buy a goal. In fact, he led the team in shots with eight and had 10 shot attempts in the game, nine of which were considered scoring chances. He finally got his goal on a breakaway – a chance that Joonas Korpisalo still got a piece of.
Matthews, Marner and Hyman were pieced together for this contest and it seemed to work. They all had Corsi For Percentages of over 64 percent and combined for three points. Still, the group needs to take advantage when Seth Jones and Werenski aren’t on the ice as they did on the Matthews’ goal. A play that earned them the first tally of the game against Ryan Murray was stopped a number of times by the Blue Jackets’ top pairing.
It took the Maple Leafs 96 minutes to beat Korpisalo in this series. The Blue Jackets’ netminder made 54 stops to open up this qualifying series before the Maple Leafs – and Matthews – were able to slip one by him.
With that, the series is tied at one game apiece and both clubs will get ready for Game 3.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.