NHL Qualifying Round Preview: Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

While we’re still a ways off from the restart of the NHL season, we do know who will face off in the qualifying round of the playoffs. Those series are a best of five series with the winners advancing to the normal field of 16 teams for the start of what most people consider the actual postseason. With that in mind, we’ll take a look at each series in the qualifying round and give our thoughts on the matter, along with the best options when it comes to placing bets on each series. After taking a look at the Pittsburgh/Montreal, Carolina/New York Rangers and New York Islanders/Florida series, we now take a look at the 8/9 matchup in the Eastern Conference as the Toronto Maple Leafs take on the Columbus Blue Jackets.

#8 Toronto Maple Leafs (36-25-9, 81 points) vs. #9 Columbus Blue Jackets (33-22-15, 81 points)

Head to Head Matchups:

October 4. 2019: Toronto 4, Columbus 1

October 21, 2019: Columbus 4, Toronto 3 (OT)

March 21, 2020: Game canceled due to COVID-19

Series Odds According to VegasInsider.com:

Odds to Win the Series: Toronto -166, Columbus +136

Odds For Total Games in the Series: 3 Games (+250), 4 Games (+150), 5 Games (+155)

Odds for Actual Series Result: Toronto 3-0 (+430), Toronto 3-1 (+290), Toronto 3-2 (+340), Columbus 3-0 (+850), Columbus 3-1 (+500), Columbus 3-2 (+450)

Team Statistics:

Toronto: 3.39 goals per game for (3rd), 3.17 goals per game against (26th), 23.1% power play percentage (6th), 77.7% penalty killing (21st)

Columbus: 2.57 goals per game for (Tied for 27th), 2.61 goals per game against (tied for 3rd), 16.4% power play percentage (27th), 81.7% penalty killing (12th)

Team Leaders:


Points: Auston Matthews 80, Goals: Matthews 47, Assists: Mitch Marner 51

Goalie Wins: Frederik Andersen 29, GAA: Jack Campbell 2.63, Shutouts: Andersen 3, Save %: Campbell .915


Points: Pierre-Luc Dubois 49, Goals: Oliver Bjorkstrand 21, Assists: Dubois 31

Goalie Wins: Joonas Korpisalo 19, GAA: Elvis Merzlikins 2.35, Shutouts: Merzlikins 5, Save %: Merzlikins .923


Toronto had a rough start to the season but turned things around after Mike Babcock was fired and the team replaced him with Sheldon Keefe. The Maple Leafs, a team blessed with a ton of offensive weapons, blossomed on that end of the ice under Keefe’s leadership as guys like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander became even more dangerous. Four players scored at least 21 goals, led by Matthews’ 47, and Marner is a premiere playmaker at center who can light the lamp as well. A potential boost to the Leafs’ forwards could be the return of Andreas Johnsson and Ilya Mikheyev, who both have been out with injuries.

Defensively, Toronto will get a major bolstering on the blueline as they will get back Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin after both missed extended periods with injuries down the stretch. That will give the Maple Leafs their top two defensemen back, which takes pressure off Tyson Barrie, Travis Dermott, Justin Holl and Cody Ceci back there. Ceci could well be the odd man out as Rasmus Sandin showed some grit and ability in his time with the big club this season. Frederik Andersen battled through some rough times but still won 29 games despite facing more than 30 shots a night on the year. Getting Jack Campbell from the Kings gives the Maple Leafs a solid backup goaltender, something that they’ve lacked over the past several years. Andersen has played in 48 postseason games, starting 45, and has 25 playoff wins to his credit.

Columbus was hammered by injuries all season long and it definitely affected their offensive production. Only Oliver Bjorkstrand (21 goals) and defenseman Zack Werenski (20) hit the 20-goal plateau and the Blue Jackets were only tied for 27th in goals per game offensively. Columbus had just two other players put up even 15 goals on the year, which has to be concerning for coach John Tortorella, especially facing an explosive Toronto attack. The Blue Jackets hope to have Alexander Texier, Josh Anderson and defenseman Seth Jones, back on the ice once the playoffs begin, though Anderson may not be ready to go until mid-August.

Joonas Korpisalo held the #1 goaltending job when the year started and into late December, when he sustained a knee injury in a scrum against the Blackhawks. After he went down, the Blue Jackets had to turn to Matiss Kivlenieks and Elvis Merzlikins in goal. Merzlikins got off to a slow start in goal before getting in the groove of things. He posted five shutouts but the lack of offensive production proved to be problematic. Merzlikins led the league with eight overtime and shutout losses despite playing on only 33 games. Tortorella will have to make a decision as to whether he goes with Korpisalo or Merzlikins in net to start the series. Whichever guy gets the start in goal will be making career playoff start number 1 when the series gets underway.

Both teams are healthier than they would have been had the playoffs started in April when they would in a regular campaign. That is a helpful thing for both sides when you get down to it. The fact remains that Columbus struggles to put the puck in the net and it’s hard to have faith in a team that has problems putting the puck in the net. Not every playoff game is won by a 1-0 or 2-1 score, which is going to put pressure on Columbus’ goaltending to try and keep them in the game. Toronto played much better under Keefe than they did under Babcock as the Maple Leafs were 27-15-5 after Babcock was let go. Columbus hasn’t faced the freewheeling version of Toronto that came to light when Keefe took over behind the bench. That’s going to prove to be a problem for the Blue Jackets. Columbus battles but Toronto’s offensive superiority gives them the advantage here to take the series for their first postseason series win since the 2003-04 season, when Pat Quinn was behind the bench and Mats Sundin wore the C on his jersey.


Toronto to Win Series -166

Toronto to Win Series in 4 Games +290

Series to Go 4 Games +150

Author Profile
Chris King

Chris King has been immersed in the world of professional and collegiate sports for more than three decades. Whether it's playing pickup games or being involved in organized sports to being a fan, he's checked all the boxes. From the NFL to arena football, the NHL to the KHL, the NBA to the WNBA to college hoops, and even MLB to the KBO. If it's out there, he's covered it and bet on it as well, as Chris has been an expert bettor in his career. Before joining Winners and Whiners back in 2015, his work appeared around the internet and in print. He's written books for Ruckus Books about college basketball, the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, golf, and the World Cup. If you're looking for the inside track on hitting a winner, do yourself a favor and read what Chris has to say.