The NHL Playoffs qualifying round comes to an end Sunday night with the only Game 5 in Toronto. The Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs will play one last time with a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the line.
Here is a preview for Sunday night’s game between the Blue Jackets and the Maple Leafs, along with a series recap and a free pick. Currently, Toronto is the -165 favorite to win the series.
The last four games have seen their fair share of wild comebacks and thrilling finishes. In Game 1, right wing Cam Atkinson scored the eventual game-winning goal, while Jonas Korpisalo stopped all 28 shots he faced, as Columbus secured the 2-0 shutout.
Toronto returned the favor in Game 2, as Centers Auston Matthews and John Tavares each scored to give the Leafs a 3-0 win. Despite facing 18 fewer shots than Korpisalo, Frederik Andersen stopped all 20 shots to earn the shutout.
Games 3 and 4 were when this series took a wild turn. Down 0-3 in Game 3, the Blue Jackets stormed back thanks to two goals from center Pierre-Luc Dubois to tie the game at three. Then in the final minutes of overtime, Dubois completed his hat trick as the Jackets stunned the Leafs 4-3 to bring them one win away from advancing.
Korpisalo was benched during the second period in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped all 21 shots he faced, while Andersen made 39 saves in the loss.
Finally, in Game 4, Columbus looked like they were well on their way to victory after center Boone Jenner’s goal late in the third period put them up 3-0. But the Leafs battled back, scoring twice in a 51-second span and then tying the game with 23 seconds to go thanks to a wrister from left wing Zach Hyman.
Then in the extra period, Toronto completed the comeback and tied the series when Matthews scored a power-play goal. Andersen made 36 saves while Merzlikins, drawing his first start of the series, had 49 saves.
Keys to Victory
Columbus will win if: Its top players show up. It seems like the Jackets are at their best when their best players are scoring.
They managed to come back and win Game 3 after Dubois, their first-line center, scored the first playoff hat trick in franchise history, and also won Game 1 after Atkinson, Dubois’ linemate, scored the game-winner.
Others, like left wing Nick Foligno and right wing Gustav Nyquist, will also be counted upon to get on the scoresheet, with the two of them combining for just two points all series, both assists from Foligno.
Toronto will win if: It wins the shots on goal battle. The Toronto Maple Leafs were badly outshot in the first three games of this series, but in Game 4 dominated in the third period and especially in overtime.
In addition to the stars like Matthews and Tavares, it’s important that the veterans on the lower lines like right wing Jason Spezza and left wing Kyle Clifford find a way to generate offense when they’re on the ice. Winning in shots on goal is especially important, especially when both of Columbus’ goalies are young and limited in playoff experience.
The Blue Jackets have a tough decision on their hands as to whether they go with Korpisalo or Merzlikins. But with Merzlikins in net for back-to-back overtime games, Korpisalo is likelier to start. The primary starter went 19-12-5 during the regular season with a 2.60 GAA and .911 save percentage.
Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs shouldn’t have any trouble deciding who will start for them tonight. Andersen starts more games than nearly every other goalie and will be in net once again in this elimination. He went 29-13-7 in the regular season with a 2.85 GAA and .909 save percentage.
This series has been as back-and-forth as it could be, with both teams winning in shutouts and come-from-behind fashion. But it all gets moved aside for Game 5, with one team moving on and one team going home.
These teams have traded victories all series, but I think that ends Sunday night. The Leafs have been the better offensive team and have the more proven goaltender. If they can avoid major defensive lapses like they had the last game, I think the Maple Leafs get the job done and win the series.
Pick: Maple Leafs -165