If the Leafs are going to win, they need to watch tape of what they did in Game Two and recreate that. Sounds easy, right? In all seriousness, if the Leafs expect to win, they will need to continue the pressure and intensity they played with in Game Two and avoid a collapse. Start the game off on the right foot and continue applying pressure. Conversely, Columbus will need to try to play as they did in game one. Limit the Leafs chances, clog up the neutral zone and play their hard-forechecking style and score some greasy goals.
In the first period, Toronto showed exactly the type of effort that secured them the victory in Game Two. One part that stands out, is their fourth line. They generate good chances and are performing how you’d expect an “energy line” to perform. The mixture of Engvall-Spezza-Clifford is a perfect blend made by Sheldon Keefe and they showed why they deserved ice-time. They were aggressive on the forecheck, finishing their checks and being relentless on the puck.
They weren’t the only line clicking though, the second line of Nylander-Tavares-Mikheyev was also playing spectacularly. If I’m being honest, I could go on like this with every line. They all carried over the momentum from game two and didn’t give up. Creating scoring chance after scoring chance, even the Jake Muzzin-less defensive pairings were eliminating chances from Columbus’ forecheck. While we’re praising the defence, I should point out that with less than two minutes left in the period, Travis Dermott takes a penalty. This could’ve really turned the momentum in Columbus’ favour, but the least expected hero rises up. Cody Ceci takes a one-timer from the point, it redirects off Seth Jones’ skate and the Leafs are up 1-0.
After the first period, it looks just like last game. The Leafs are doing everything right, every line and pairing seems to be in sync. It paid off as the Leafs are up 1-0 with 40 minutes left and they’re even leading in the shot category, 9-6.
Things seemed to carry over in the second, they weren’t showing up as shots but they showed up where it matters, goals. Less than 10 minutes into the period, Leafs are on the powerplay, Mitch Marner makes a hard pass from the point. He hits William Nylander in front, who takes a second to re-position and pull it back before burying it, 2-0 Leafs. Just over a minute after that, Nick Robertson comes streaking down the wing. He calls for a pass, winds up and shoots a one-timer between the legs of Joonas Korpisalo for his first NHL goal!
Then, the game starts to shift momentum. John Tortorella makes a change in net, substituting the struggling Korpisalo for Elvis Merzlikins. A few minutes pass after the Robertson goal and Pierre-Luc Dubois fires one past Frederik Andersen to put Columbus on the board. The game is now 3-1.
After the second, if you’re a Leafs fan, you probably feel a little unsettled, we’ve seen this movie before and it usually ends in a collapse. People say “the two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey” it’s a cliche, but it exists for a reason. The second period shots are 10-8 in favour of Columbus, 17-16 in favour of Toronto in the game.
Just like the Leafs in the second period, Columbus seems to be carrying their momentum over. The Leafs are making more mistakes and Columbus keeps generating chances. Just over a quarter way through, from the hashmarks, Seth Jones snipes one top corner to put the Jackets within one.
Just because the ice is clearly tilting, doesn’t mean the Leafs have given up, they’re also generating chances. However, the Jackets are playing tight defensively and blocking them or deflecting them. They fail to get on the board, allowing Columbus to tie it up. Dubois skates the puck from his own zone up the right-wing and hardly contested fires a shot the beats Andersen blocker side, the score is now 3-3 and the Leafs couldn’t avoid the collapse and blow the lead.
This is when the Leafs start playing desperate and they put their foot on the gas. Both teams trade chances but neither can score. There are a few close calls but, once again, nothing goes in.
After the third, the Leafs have coughed up their 3-0 lead and are staring down the barrel of a gun. It was the wake-up call they needed, but it was too late. Columbus leads on the shot clock 14-10 for the period and now for the game, 30-27.
This overtime was a major mental battle between the two teams. Toronto looked defeated in a lot of ways, their defence was much sloppier than it had been earlier in the game. On the offensive side, they were generating quality chances but not many of them. In overtime, Columbus lead 14-7 in shots and it helped as Dubois completes the hattrick on a breakaway, Columbus wins 4-3.
Columbus was able to regroup mentally and come back from their three-goal deficit. It sounds obvious but from a mental standpoint, they didn’t let themselves get down and they continued to press and push and it paid off. Also, Pierre-Luc Dubois had a stellar performance and carried the team on his back. Elvis Merzlikins came in and stood on his head stopping all 21 shots he faced. Their defensive group was able to shut down the Leafs skaters in multiple ways, putting sticks and bodies in-front of shots and mitigating the danger the Leafs offence is capable of.
Toronto, on the other hand, were generating quality chances all game. Unfortunately, they couldn’t capitalize and were unable to come away with the game and now face elimination. It’s a trend that has haunted the Leafs, their inability to play with the lead and eventual collapse. It’s not so much that they stop trying altogether, they’re like a runner who forgets they entered a long-distance race and treats it like a 100-metre dash. They play hard, but in the final stretch, have spent all their energy and are unable to hold on long enough to close it out. They get too complacent when playing with the lead and play sloppy.
⭐️⭐️⭐️- Seth Jones
⭐️⭐️ – Elvis Merzlikins
⭐️ – Pierre-Luc Dubois
⭐️⭐️⭐️ – John Tavares
⭐️⭐️ – Mitch Marner
⭐️ – Auston Matthews
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