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Leafs Mount a Thrilling Comeback

This could be it for the 2019-2020 Toronto Maple Leafs season. The Leafs collapsed last game and Columbus were able to come back and pushed their backs against a wall. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored an overtime goal to complete his hattrick and Elvis Merzlikins stood on his head. They’ll need to play a full 60 minutes if they plan to play beyond tonight.

Columbus, much like the Leafs should be looking to play a full 60 minutes as well. They’ll need to shut down the Leafs forwards and not let them get ahead early if they plan to win it here. They also can’t bank on their goalie shutting the door all game tonight, they need to stop the Leafs from generating quality chances and try to bang in a few of their own to start things off. Not only that, but they also can’t rely on a comeback if they plan to beat the Leafs. They have the offensive power and waiting too long to get their feet under them won’t help their case.

First Period

The game was quite even for the first period of this match-up. Cam Atkinson opened the scoring less than five minutes in. Pierre-Luc Dubois comes racing down the left-wing and passes it across to Atkinson who buries it, 1-0 Columbus. After that, it was a fast tempo, high octane period where each team was trading rushes. It really looked like either team could come out on top. No team looked to be running away with it, even with Columbus having the lead.

After the first, shots were 15-13 in favor of Columbus. The most shots in a single period all series. It’s a good opening act and the game should be exciting from here on out.

Second Period

Things started to turn a little bit in this frame. Columbus felt like they were really starting to pull ahead. This was highlighted when once again less than five minutes into the period, Columbus scored. David Savard makes a cross-ice pass the puck from the right point to the left. Vladislav Gavrikov is there to take it, he steps up and takes a wrist shot that goes cleanly past a screened Frederik Andersen, 2-0 Columbus. This goal deflated Toronto, they looked like they had no more fight left in them. They kept trying but on the other end of the ice, Merzlikins was a brick wall, stopping everything they threw at him.

As frustrations started to boil over, Leafs veteran Jason Spezza starts a fight in front of the Columbus net with Dean Kukan. They exchange punches and eventually both go down to the ice. No one has any idea what to make of it besides, this is embarrassing. A team filled to the brim with youthful talent had to get a kick in the rear end by a 37-year old on a league-minimum contract choosing to fight. 

After the second, the Leafs look deflated, if you were on social media you saw how bummed out every single fan was. Although, shots were now 30-26 in favor of Toronto as both teams match their first period totals.

Third Period

The Leafs’ effort was flat-out embarrassing. Nobody looked good, even the Leafs best defenceman Morgan Rielly. Half-way through the period he fumbled the puck exiting his zone, Nick Foligno strips it from him and Rielly desperately falls down to try and take it from him but Foligno passes it over to Boone Jenner who’s on a partial breakaway and he scores, 3-0 Columbus. The game looks over. No one looks happy and everyone looks frustrated. The Leafs will need to pull it together if they plan a comeback.

Then, with the goalie pulled and just under 4 minutes to go, Mitch Marner, throws a puck on net, Zach Hyman pushes it in front of the net. William Nylander is there to put the Leafs on the board, 3-1 Columbus. Next shift, Auston Matthews takes a pass from Marner, carries the puck into the offensive zone and passes it to the slot where he finds an open John Tavares who snipes it top shelf, 3-2 Columbus.

After this goal, as a Leafs fan, you feel hope but you immediately think it’s false hope. When has this team shown me they can do this? You ask yourself. Little do you know, you’re about to be amazed. Under a minute to go, Nylander almost loses the puck in front of his empty net but evades pressure. He carries the puck into the offensive zone and passes it over to Hyman. Hyman carries the puck down the left wing side, finds Matthews across the ice and passes it over to him, but he can’t find an open shot. Then, with 24 seconds left, Matthews passes it back to Hyman who settles the puck down and throws it on net and with 22.2 seconds left in the third period, the Toronto Maple Leafs have tied the game, 3-3.

After the third, the momentum has completely shifted. Toronto was being minutes away from packing their bags but they were resilient and scored three goals in four minutes to tie the game. At the end of regulation, shots are 39-32 and the ice has completely tilted in the Leafs favor.

Overtime

In overtime, the game definitely doesn’t look over. Columbus comes back strong but the Leafs aren’t giving up either. How could they? They’re blocking shots and battling to keep their season alive and fighting for pucks. The shots are 13-7 in favor of the Leafs and Rielly goes for a puck in the corner with Nick Foligno. The ref’s arm shoots up as Foligno’s stick slides under Rielly’s skate and Rielly goes down hard into the boards. He’s fighting the call but to no avail, Toronto is getting a power play with less than 10 minutes to go in overtime.

The team’s line-up for a face-off to the left of Elvis Merzlikins. John Tavares lines up for the draw but loses to Riley Nash. He passes it back to Savard, Nylander cuts off his passing lane behind the net and he’s forced to throw it up the boards right to Morgan Rielly. Rielly holds the line and passes it up to Mitch Marner who throws a pass behind his back over to Tavares. He spins around and passes it to a wide-open Auston Matthews who takes a one-timer and scores! Leafs complete the comeback and beat the Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime, forcing a game five.

Final thoughts

Columbus, much like the Leafs last game, were unable to hold onto their lead. Merzlikins broke down after the first goal but it’s not his fault why they lost. He saved 49/53 shots, most goalies face that amount of shots in two games but Columbus couldn’t handle the Leafs offense. 

For the Leafs, they were lucky to come back. As exciting as it is, you can’t expect it every game. They’ll need to play with more life and start on time if they plan to not only advance but to do any real damage in the playoffs moving forward.

3 Stars:

Toronto

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Fourth Line (Jason Spezza)

⭐️⭐️ William Nylander

⭐️ Auston Matthews

Columbus

⭐️⭐️⭐️ Pierre-Luc Dubois

⭐️⭐️ Cam Atkinson

⭐️ Elvis Merzlikins

Cody Ceci Counter: 25

If you didn’t know, I pledged to donate money every time Cody Ceci makes me swear during Leafs games. I haven’t been keeping up with this in these articles but I haven’t hated him the past three games. However, I went up from 11 in game one to only 25 in total. Let’s hope we keep it low for next game!

Game Five Preview

After the events of Thursday night, I had no idea we’d be here. So, I figured I would do a preview of the final game of the series at the end.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Much like what the Leafs needed in game four to comeback, the Leafs will need their stars to shine in game five if they plan to win. The team clearly relies on their top-six and it will be important for them to show up for a full 60 minutes. This game could be the biggest game they’ve ever played. No, it’s not a game seven of the first round but it’s the final game to see if they can qualify for the playoffs. If they fail to qualify after three straight first-round exits, it will be seen as a massive failure. Also, it will more than likely mean they’ll start next season with a much different than the team Keefe composes today. The spotlight is on them and they have to rise to the occasion if they want to still play with the man next to them.

Columbus Blue Jackets

For Columbus, the spotlight isn’t on them as strongly. Yes, if they lose it will be seen as a devastating collapse considering how close they were to advancing. But, they don’t have the lofty expectations that the Leafs have. Last summer they lost; Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and deadline rentals Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. They weren’t supposed to make the playoffs, most people would’ve expected them to fall far out of the playoff picture. However, now that they’re here and they’ve gotten this far, there is most likely intense internal pressure to move on. They won’t give up without a fight and based on what we’ve seen in this series, I wouldn’t bank on it either.

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