The Toronto Maple Leafs will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in game one of the best of five qualifying round Sunday night from the Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. The Leafs defeated Columbus by a 4-1 score in the first meeting and the Blue Jackets responded with a 4-3 overtime road win in the second clash. Both teams have earned 81 points on the season.
Blue Jackets Benefit from Break to Ice Healthy Roster
The Columbus Blue Jackets can be considered one of the teams to benefit the most from the August start date. They were ravaged with several key injuries as the original NHL season neared its conclusion but now feature almost a completely healthy roster.
Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, and Zach Werekenski along with Alex Wennberg all missed significant time due to injury and are back in action. Atkinson netted a remarkable 41 goals in the 2018-2019 season and had 12 goals in 44 games before his ankle injury.
We waited a long time to say this, but...— x-Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) July 30, 2020
THE GOOSE IS LOOSE pic.twitter.com/jDz4dqbycm
Columbus is led in points by Pierre-Luc Dubois with 49 points in 70 games. The 22-year old center scored one goal in two games against the Maple Leafs this season. The Blue Jackets fell in the second round of the 2019 playoffs after pulling off the huge upset sweep over the top-seeded Lightning in the first round.
The Blue Jackets goaltending has been sharp all season. Number one goalie Joonas Korpisalo is having a solid season and posted a 2.60 GAA and a 19-12-5 record. He was then injured and was replaced by Elvis Merzlikens. The rookie was spectacular, registering a 2.35 GAA and a 13-9-8 record. Columbus is averaging 2.6 goals per game, ranking them 27th overall. They are holding opponents to 2.6 goals, good for third in the NHL.
Maple Leafs Under Pressure to Finally Win Playoff Round
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since the 2003-2004 season. They have been eliminated in the first round in three consecutive seasons and they are feeling the pressure to win a series. Toronto has lost two consecutive series’ to the Boston Bruins. The Leafs feature a ton of star power in their forward core highlighted by Auston Matthews. The 22-year old sniper has accumulated a remarkable 47 goals and 80 points in 70 games. He has fared well against the Blue Jackets, registering two goals and an assist in two meetings this season.
Mitch Marner has also shined against Columbus this season, posting two goals and two helpers and has 12 points in 11 career meetings. The crafty playmaker has 51 assists and 67 points on the year.
The Maple Leafs will have Frederik Andersen guard the cage. The veteran netminder was having an inconsistent season and holds a 2.85 GAA and a .909 save percentage accompanied by a 29-13-7 record. Toronto’s defense has been a glaring issue at times this season and often rely on their scoring to win games.
The Maple Leafs can fill the net and are averaging 3.4 goals, good for third in the NHL. They are allowing an average of 3.2 goals, placing them 26th overall.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are:
- 1-7 in their last 8 road games.
- 3-12 in their last 15 games overall.
- 1-7 in their last 8 games as an underdog.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are:
- 19-7 in their last 26 games when playing on 3 or more days of rest.
- 4-1 in their last 5 games against the Eastern Conference.