After exchanging shutouts in the first two games of their best-of-five Eastern Conference qualifying series, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets are both looking to generate more offense in Game 3 on Thursday in Toronto.
The Maple Leafs rebounded from a 2-0 loss in Game 1 with a dominant 3-0 victory in Game 2, outshooting Columbus by a 39-20 margin and controlling the majority of play.
Goalie Joonas Korpisalo almost single-handedly kept the Jackets in the game, stopping 36 of 38 shots. Auston Matthews’ goal at 16:00 of the second period, however, finally returned dividends on Toronto’s consistent pressure.
“Today I thought we forechecked really hard right from the start of the game,” Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “Some loose pucks became available, gave us an extra opportunity to attack the net … Our guys brought it to another level today from a competitive standpoint and that really helped us in all regards.”
John Tavares scored a third-period goal for the Leafs, while Morgan Rielly added an empty-net score in the final minute of play.
Leafs defenseman Jake Muzzin left the ice on a stretcher with less than two minutes remaining in Game 2, following a headfirst collision into the legs of Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Muzzin was ruled out for the rest of the series on Wednesday. That leaves the Leafs without, arguably, their best (and certainly most playoff-tested) defenseman. Either Martin Marincin, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin, or Timothy Liljegren will join the lineup for Game 3.
Losing a top blue-liner is no help for goalie Frederik Andersen, who has been almost perfect in the series. Andersen has a .981 save percentage (stopping 53 of 54 shots) and 0.50 goals-against average through the first two games. Andersen is the first Leafs goaltender to record a postseason shutout since Ed Belfour on April 16, 2004.
In the opposite net, Korpisalo has been equally impressive against a heavier workload. Korpisalo has stopped 64 of 66 shots over the two games, with a .970 save percentage and 1.02 GAA.
On paper, low-scoring games would seem to favor the Blue Jackets rather than the high-octane Leafs. Columbus finished with the fourth-fewest goals scored and third-fewest goals allowed of any NHL team during the regular season.
The recipe of strong defense and just enough offense worked for the Jackets in Game 1, but their Game 2 performance was “unacceptable” in the view of team captain Nick Foligno.
“I just don’t think we were (as) sharp tonight as we have been. I think that was the biggest difference,” Foligno said. “You can dissect it any way you want, but it ultimately just came down to we didn’t play a very good game.”
Foligno and Riley Nash each had three shots in Game 2, leading all Columbus skaters. Alexandre Texier leads the team in shots for the series with five.
Tavares (10) and Matthews (nine) lead Toronto in shots over the two games.
Both teams are a combined 0-for-12 on power-play chances during the series.
As per the rules of these neutral-site Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets are the designated home team for Games 3 and 4.
–Field Level Media