Columbus Blue Jackets Beat Toronto Maple Leafs With Superb Goaltending

Columbus Blue Jackets Goaltending
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For two years in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs ran into the Boston Bruins. For two years in a row, the Bruins eliminated them. This year many Maple Leafs fans thought having the Columbus Blue Jackets as an opponent would be an easier time. But those fans were very wrong. Despite a break out performance from Auston Matthews, Columbus just seemed to have all the answers. They received an outstanding showing from their top defensive pairing Seth Jones and Zack Werenski. They got timely scoring when they needed it. But most importantly, Columbus Blues Jackets rode the goaltending duo of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins as they beat the Toronto Maple Leafs to advance to the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Columbus Beats Toronto Maple Leafs With Superb Goaltending

Columbus started the series without a clear cut starter. Going with Korpisalo looked like a stroke of brilliance as he was simply brilliant in the first two games. Game Three saw him stumble, allowing three goals and opening the door for Merzlikins. Merzlikins entered Game Three and did not allow another goal the rest of the way which enabled his team to rally and come back from a 3-0 deficit.

Merzlikins started Game Four and play brilliant hockey for almost the entire game. It looked like Toronto would be bowing out early on the strength of his play. However, it was as Werenksi suffered a wrist injury late in the third period. His loss on the back end was noticeable as Toronto managed a 3-0 comeback win of their own. Matthews was instrumental in the win as he tallied two assists and the eventual overtime winner.

With both goalies having played both brilliant hockey and also showing streaks of less than an optimal performance by allowing Toronto comebacks, it was unknown who would start for Columbus in Game Five. Fate made the decision for them as Merzlikins was declared unfit to play with an undisclosed injury. Korpisalo hit the ice with an opportunity to backstop his team into the First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

And play them in he did. Facing a loaded top line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, and Matthews for the first two periods, Korpisalo played absolutely brilliantly. Turning aside chance after chance as Toronto carried the play. In the third period, Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe broke up that top line hoping to generate more opportunities from multiple lines. It did not make a difference. Korpisalo played 60 perfect minutes to lead his team to victory. The Columbus Blue Jackets goaltending was just too much for the Maple Leafs goaltending.

Defence Over Offence

The top pairing of Jones and Werenski have bloomed into one of the league’s elite.  A perfect mix of size and speed, they complement each other in every way. From the drop of the very first puck, Jones was assigned to shut down Matthews and he did an admirable job. Matthews came into this series with drive and determination and while he is almost unstoppable when so motivated, Jones did a fantastic job limiting his chances as well as anyone could.

Werenski, meanwhile, was always noticeable every time he was on the ice. He and Jones led the offensive charge and generated many of the high danger chances for Columbus. While Frederik Andersen kept their results low with some outstanding saves, Werenski broke through in Game Five, scoring the game-winning goal at the 6:29 mark of the first period.

Auston Matthews Emerges As A Playoff Performer

For two seasons in a row, as the Leafs exited the playoffs at the hands of the Boston Bruins, there was much hand wringing in Leafs Nation at the perceived ineffectiveness of Auston Matthews. Scoring only six goals and 12 points over those 14 playoff games had some fans questioning if he was not, perhaps, a playoff performer. While such thoughts were incredibly premature, Matthews incredible regular-season success at 18 years old had set the bar very high for him in the eyes of the fans.

Matthews put all such talk to bed immediately in this series. He was a dominant force in every game, regardless of the final score or the performances of his teammates. Battling every shift against an elite defender in Seth Jones, he still managed to accumulate two goals and six points in the five games played. He could easily have doubled that output with the number of high-quality chances he generated. The brilliance in net for Columbus was all that prevented him from doing so.

Columbus beats Toronto in the series but it was definitely the post-season coming out party for Auston Matthews.

More Questions for Frederik Andersen

With questions regarding the playoff performances of Frederik Andersen from years past still lingering, the Leafs goalie did not do himself any favours. While he played exceptional for almost the entire series, it was a questionable goal by Cam Atkinson in Game One that broke a 0-0 tie early in the third period.

After that one goal, it appeared that he settled down and played stellar hockey. Even in Game Five he still looked like he was at the top of his game. The one goal to beat him was a Zach Werenski shot that was redirected. It was the type of goal that would have been extremely difficult for any goalie to stop.

And then it happened. At 11:40 of the third period, Liam Foudy fired a shot from the corner almost on the goal line that seemed to go right through Andersen. It was the kind of goal that absolutely crushes a team as they are pressing for the equalizer. While there was still time to play, with Korpisalo playing at the level he was, a two-goal lead felt insurmountable.  And, as it turned out, it was.

Going Forward

The Tampa Bay Lightning are next up for Columbus but the status of both Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos remains uncertain. Hedman, who suffered an apparent ankle injury while playing the Philadephia Flyers, is arguably the best defenseman in the league. Should he be unable to play, that is an immeasurable benefit to the Blue Jackets.

Similarly, the loss of Stamkos allows the defence of the Blue Jackets to have one less major weapon to worry about. This season he has scored 29 goals and 66 points in 59 games. He is also a premier power-play producer with 10 goals and 29 points.

If Tampa Bay gets both of these players back, they are likely to be incredibly hard to beat. Steve Yzerman built an incredibly well-rounded team that is not only offensively gifted but good defensively as well. They will also be coming in with a very bad taste after the humiliating sweep they suffered at the hands of these very same Blue Jackets last year.

But if last year has taught us anything, it is to never count these Blue Jackets out.

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