Leafs Force Game 5 In An Overtime Thriller
Image Credit: The Athletic.com
Well, it wouldn’t be a Leafs playoff game without a chance of elimination and a chance to force Game 7, or in this case, Game 5 on Sunday. After multiple games prior have led to teams winning their elimination games and moving on, the omen on the Leafs did not look good at all going into this one. I, on the other hand, was going into this game with a pretty open mind and fewer nerves, maybe just due to the fact that my confidence for this game was at an all-time low. I think no one can really blame that on us Leafs fans who are feeling the same because hey, we have read this story and experienced the same heartache way too many times before. Okay, on to the game review.
If you would have told me the Leafs were going to come out of the gate and start the game on time, I probably would have believed you for sure. This was not the case, as the Leafs came out of the game looking very behind in the defensive end and creating chances but with nothing coming from them. Sounds like a lot of this series I know...Wouldn’t you know it, Columbus gets on the board early by a beautiful play set up by none other than the overtime hero Pierre-Luc Dubois and its 1-0 very early on in this period. The rest of the period didn’t really look like the Leafs were giving a full team effort. A late powerplay to get back into the game falls short once again with only 2 shots to come out of it. The Leafs have really struggled with their power play this season and in these playoffs, sad to see from such a stacked forward core. Only hope at this point was a better second period because that did not look like a Leafs team on the brink of elimination...or maybe it did.
I was actually impressed with the Leafs with this one coming out of the gate. The Leafs took control of the pace and game for most of the first half of the second period. Toronto’s 4th line were out there skating for their lives and in many cases were outperforming all 3 other lines. Kyle Clifford with some hard forechecking in the corners. Pierre Engvall showing us that he is the complete package of speed and physical play. But lastly, Jason Spezza, skating and handling the puck as if we stepped into a time machine and were watching the Spezza from 10 years ago.
After a strong start to the period, the hockey gods had other plans in mind for the Maple Leafs...A shot from the point by Blue Jackets defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov gets deflected off Leafs forward Mitch Marner and past Frederick Anderson to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a very uneasy 2-0 lead in the game. This seemed to have really deflated the Leafs mojo because as the period went on, the Leafs started to sink back on their heels and really let the Blue Jackets start to control the pace for the rest of the second period and I know, just like all of Leafs Nation and myself, we're all getting the feelings of just having game end already.
I will say for the third period, I saw a lot of heart and grit from a lot of the Leafs players here. But it was again the 4th line of the Maple Leafs that just outperformed a lot of the top stars of the team, creating chances and just skating out there like their lives depended on it. Even Jason Spezza got into a fight to spark some life in the team and you know he was the last person you would think of to fight. This seemed to work a little for the top lines as there were chances made but the young goaltender Elvis Merzlikins showed why he has been solid at shutting the maple leafs down and a lot of times this season for the Blue Jacket. The Leafs just couldn't find a way to solve him and was starting to drain the team and you could really see it as with 5:50 left to go in the 3rd period, a terrible giveaway by Morgan Rielly, leads to Boone Jenner eventually breaking in all alone and scoring to drive the dagger farther down into the Maple Leafs chest with a 3-0 lead late.
Now, we all know as hockey fans that a 3-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in the game. The Leafs certainly are the poster boys for this aspect of the game as less than 24 hours prior, they showed the hockey world why...But what transpires next I don’t think ANY Leafs fan was ever going to predict. In a crazy turn of events, the Leafs pull out the famous card game UNO card of reverse play and for once flip the script on the game. In a span of, I kid you not, 3 minutes and 33 seconds, the Leafs erased the Blue Jackets 3 goal lead and tied the game at 3...yeah I know that is a lot of 3’s. I could not believe what I was seeing as a Leafs fan. I will be the first to admit I had my hand on the remote ready to go before the first goal went in. But at the end of the day, the Leafs big boys showed up with goals by William Nylander, John Tavares, and Zach Hyman to force overtime in the most important game of their season.
For the second straight article, I am writing an overtime piece, and boy did I feel so good about writing this one. Shockingly this was the best period the Leafs played all game. There were strong offensive rushes and chances which almost ended the game and the Leafs defense stayed composed and came up with some crucial blocked shots to keep the team in it. The Blue Jackets rough night would continue as their Captain, Marcus Foligno, would take a tripping call against Morgan Rielly and send the Leafs to a Power Play. To be honest, I didn’t feel great with it, the Leafs were showing all game and even the series that the power play was not working out and could not capitalize on it...Boy, did they prove me wrong! A beautiful play set up by the unit and had John Tavares feed a beautiful saucer pass to Auston Matthews who one-timed it past Merzlikins and sent Leafs Nation, and myself, into utter jubilation! What a way to come back from the game prior and literally do the exact same thing as Columbus did to them less than 24 hours prior.
Overall, this wasn’t the best game played by the Maple Leafs. There is a lot of work to be done for sure, for all our health’s sake, cannot play like that every night. The Leafs need to find a way to dig down deep and use that last 4 minutes of the 3rd effort for a full 60 minute game in Game 5. We will have to see what Sunday brings us but until then I leave you with one, Leafs fan biased, phrase…..Auston Matthews IS A LEAF!