Speechless. Whether you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Columbus Blue Jackets, my guess is that you’re speechless right now. Three goal leads are not safe in this series and Game 4 was no different as the Maple Leafs mimicked their opponents win in Game 3 with a comeback of their own.
This time, the Maple Leafs tallied three goals in under four minutes with the goalie pulled to tied the game – only to win it in overtime with an Auston Matthews’ tally to push the series to a fifth and deciding game.
With that, here’s what we took away from the latest matchup between the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets.
Say what you will about their effort for most of the game, when it came down to it the Maple Leafs found a way to get it done. For most of the game, they were average. Getting their shots on goal and keeping up some pressure. Still the Blue Jackets went up 3-0 in the third period and it seemed like the season was, once again, over for the Maple Leafs.
But with a period of 3:34 in the third and no Frederik Andersen in the Maple Leafs’ net, the same five-player squad got it done for the Maple Leafs – tallying three goals and tying the game before winning it in overtime. That squad included Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Zach Hyman and Morgan Rielly.
With the comeback, the Maple Leafs became just the third team in NHL history to win a postseason game after overcoming a three-goal deficit in the final four minutes – joining the Oilers in Game 3 of the 1997 Conference Quarterfinals and Anaheim in Game 5 of the 2017 second round.
Call it what you will, but Sheldon Keefe was happy with his team’s resilience and here’s to hoping they can carry it over to Game 5 on Sunday.
A Two-Line Show
Late in the game, it seemed as though the Maple Leafs and bench boss, Keefe, were running with a two-line system – with the leftover forwards shuffled into the mix here and there. Obviously Matthews, Tavares and Marner were the mainstays on the ice for the Maple Leafs, but it was the fourth line that saw some significant time down the stretch for the Maple Leafs.
Kyle Clifford played almost 12 minutes. Jason Spezza played nearly 11 minutes and Pierre Engvall played just over 16 minutes. For them, it was a compliment to what they were bringing to the game for the Maple Leafs.
Physicality. Tenacity. And hard work. That what defined the Maple Leafs fourth line in this game and Keefe recognized that by playing the trio more than they had played all series long. With that, the Maple Leafs were able to rest their top line which ultimately helped them put away the game-winner in overtime.
On the other side of the puck, it’s safe to say that Liam Foudy has earned a roster spot for the Blue Jackets in 2020-21. While he hasn’t made an impact on the scoresheet, Foudy’s speed and puck awareness has made him an important player for the Blue Jackets so far in this series.
On Friday, it was no different. Foudy played 15:36 with two shots and a hit and was a continuous force in driving the play at his pace. If he’s able to maintain that presence on the ice, he should be a lock for the Blue Jackets’ lineup when the puck drops on next season.
Also on the Columbus side of things is the noticeable fact that they were without Zach Werenski for the tail end of the game. Werenski seemed to have injured his wrist in Game 3 of the series, but had it quickly taped up and was able to play the entirety of Thursday’s game.
That said, he was absent at then end of Friday’s game with speculations swirling as to what the injury could be that was holding him out.
According to CBS, Werenski’s last shift was with 9:08 left in the third period. He was seen being treated by the medical staff on the Blue Jackets’ bench for what looked to be a neck or shoulder injury, but didn’t remain in the game.
Like the Maple Leafs, who lost Muzzin in Game 2, the loss of Werenski for any period of time would be a huge hole on the Blue Jackets’ blue line moving forward.
Elvis Still in the Building
As for the Blue Jackets’ netminder, Elvis Merzlikins, he shouldn’t take much of the blame in this one. The 26-year-old saw 53 shots on goal and stopped 49 of them while giving up an overtime tally that he had zero chance of stopping.
Merzlikins entered the game in Game 3 in relief of Joonas Korpisalo and was the go-to starter for the Blue Jackets in Game 4. He seemed to have the win under his belt before the team collapsed in front of him late in the third giving up three goals in a span of 3:34.
Ultimately, Merzlikins took the loss and the Blue Jackets will look to rebound against the Maple Leafs on Sunday, while the Maple Leafs will look to continue the momentum they grabbed late in Game 4.
Also Worth Noting…
Jason Spezza picked up a fighting major when he took on Dean Kukan in an attempt to try and motivate his club when they were down. At the time, the Maple Leafs were down 2-0 and Spezza took matters into his own hands dusting it up with Kukan midway through the second period.
As for Matthews, Marner and Tavares, they were buzzing tonight accounting for 24 of the Maple Leafs 53 shots in the game. Matthews led the way with 10 shots and it was exactly what the team needed – getting pucks on the net.
With that said, both teams will be looking for the big win on Sunday in the deciding Game 5. It will all depend on which teams show up and might even depend on which team jumps out to a lead. At least that seems to be the case so far in this series.
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.