Maple Leafs Overcome Another Blown Lead; Win 6-3 Over the Blue Jackets

Toronto (6) Columbus (3) Final

By: Gordon Brown

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Although the Maple Leafs entered Wednesday night with wins in nine of their last eleven games, including a streak of four-in-a-row, they’ve struggled to maintain leads and put teams away when the opportunity presents itself.

Toronto recently failed to nail the coffin shut against Tampa Bay and coughed up a three-goal lead in the process. Despite coming out on top in Monday’s nail-biter, holding a lead remains to be a major concern—and it appeared they would run into that same issue tonight.

On the outside of a playoff spot looking in, the Columbus Blue Jackets entered hostile territory inside of Air Canada Centre come Wednesday.

The reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Sergei Bobrovsky, would have the night off after leading his team to a 4-1 decision over the Islanders just one night prior. Joonas Korpisalo started in goal for the second leg of the back-to-back situation, he also came out on top in his only start versus Toronto this season—a 4-2 victory on December 20th.  

Frederik Andersen slotted in between the pipes for Toronto. 

The Maple Leafs opened the game with a two-goal advantage courtesy of strikes from Dominic Moore and Nazem Kadri, respectively, only to have it single-handedly erased by Nick Foligno.

Foligno was able to get Columbus on the board with a quick strike towards the end of the opening frame. A cycle formation saw the puck moved around the perimeter before Alexander Wennberg was able to connect with Foligno in the slot, where he flipped a backhand up and over Andersen to make it 2-1.

It didn’t take long for the Blue Jackets captain to build upon that momentum as the second period rolled around. 

The equalizer was produced at the 2:25 mark to erase a two-goal deficit and effectively flip the script on a dime in front of the home crowd. A familiar duo hooked up once again and made Toronto defenders look foolish in the process, as Wennberg danced his way around Travis Dermott before finding his partner-in-crime, Foligno, for a quick tally.

To make matters worse, Jake Gardiner did not play the last eight minutes of the opening frame and did not return to the bench for the second. There was nothing visibly out of the ordinary, however, it is being regarded as a suspected lower-body injury—he would not return.

Luckily for Toronto, circumstances began to favour them once more thanks to a pair of goals from one of Mike Babcock’s new favourite lines. The Marleau-Kadri-Marner line struck twice in the span of 2:14 to restore a two-goal lead, leaving Jackets’ head coach John Tortorella noticeably puzzled.

Nazem Kadri recorded his second goal of the night to retake the lead, Travis Dermott jumped up into the rush and helped facilitate a passing play alongside Morgan Rielly before finding the eventual goal-scorer. The tally would mark his 20th goal and the third time he’s reached the milestone in his career. 

Kadri’s line would return to the ice just moments later and potted another goal, this time off the stick of Mitch Marner—his 13th of the season made it 4-2.

The second period scoring wasn’t finished until Jack Johnson scored to make it a one-goal game while raising his trade-bait stock in the process. If it weren’t for Toronto’s offensive flare it could have been a much different story, considering the Blue Jackets had already exceeded the forty-shot plateau before the second intermission. 

As play resumed in the third, Toronto was back up against the wall at risk of blowing yet another lead. It’s a daunting narrative, but one that needed to be exorcised sooner rather than later… 

Despite surrendering 41 shots through two periods, the Buds managed to stay one step ahead of the opposition up until the midway point of the period—which is when they increased their lead to two. 

Toronto’s hottest line was back at it again, as Mitch Marner propelled the puck on goal and created a scramble in front of the crease before looping around the net to scoop up the loose puck. Once in his possession, Marner utilized his pristine vision to locate and feed Nazem Kadri with a back-door pass to easily notch his fourth career hat-trick.

Kadri’s goal would prove to be the difference but Patrick Marleau added an empty-netter for good measure, Toronto would walk away with a 6-3 decision and their fifth-straight victory. 

Columbus made history in the loss, becoming the first team to record 50+ shots in three consecutive games in the NHL expansion-era. Additionally, they are the first team to accomplish this since 1967-68. In doing so, the Blue Jackets also helped Frederik Andersen establish a new career high in shots faced—57. 

The Buds should be in for a stiff test on Saturday night as they get set to visit Pittsburgh for a date with the red-hot Penguins. Puck drop is set at 7:00 p.m. EST on Hockey Night in Canada.

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Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs