Late-Game Heroics Lift Columbus Over Toronto

Columbus (3) Toronto (2) Final (OT)

By: Gordon Brown

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

The Maple Leafs continued their six-game homestand on Monday by welcoming the Columbus Blue Jackets into town. After back-to-back shootout victories on the back’s of both Tyler Bozak and Frederik Andersen, the Maple Leafs appeared hopeful to close out a game in regulation time.

Columbus was coming fresh off of a 3-2 shootout victory of their own, with Sergei Bobrovsky backstopping eight-rounds of shooters and a 42-save effort over Florida just one night prior.

Despite playing on Sunday, Bobrovsky was back in between the pipes against Toronto on Monday.

It happened to be the lone game on the NHL’s schedule, which was sure to draw eyes from all around the league. It was reported by David Pagnotta via Twitter that seventeen scouts represented by fourteen teams were in attendance.

Following an impressive NHL debut, Travis Dermott saw his efforts rewarded in the form of a top-4 promotion within the Maple Leafs lineup. Dermott slid over to play on the right-hand side of Jake Gardiner — despite being a left-handed shot himself, he has plenty of AHL experience playing on the off-side.

Andreas Borgman would assume his usual third pairing role alongside Roman Polak, Connor Carrick was a healthy scratch.

As the action got underway, the game’s first goal wasn’t recorded until after the opening period. James van Riemsdyk broke the ice midway through the second with his 18th tally of the season and gained some ground on Toronto’s goal-scoring lead behind Auston Matthews’ total of 19.

The goal came as a result of a slick tip-in of Roman Polak’s initial shot, which Van Riemsdyk managed to redirect past Bobrovsky while simultaneously providing a visual screen in front.

Fast forward five minutes later and the Maple Leafs had doubled their advantage, this time courtesy of a William Nylander power play marker. Once Jake Gardiner received the puck along the blue line, he located and fed Nylander at the opposite point before slithering down to the face-off dot and releasing a bullet past the reigning Vezina Trophy winner.

It should be worth noting that William Nylander has been a point-per-game player since December 19th. His 4 goals and 6 helpers in the last 10 games, including tonight, could be a sign of things to come in the season’s second half — and could spell big numbers for Toronto in restricted free agency this off-season.

Auston Matthews later had a chance to add more insurance to their lead but instead missed what was seemingly an empty cage and potentially his 20th goal of the year. What simply appeared to be a missed opportunity turned out to be something far worse as the Leafs escaped with a 2-0 lead after forty minutes…

Two-goal leads are never safe, so it goes.

As the third frame rolled around, Columbus had remained quiet while the momentum continued to favour Toronto. The Maple Leafs dominated play until the clock turned into a motivator for the Blue Jackets — which is when circumstances turned upside down.

The Blue Jackets managed to score twice just 1:48 apart with under five minutes remaining to stun the home crowd and tie the game at 2-apiece.

Two goals came on just four shots for Columbus — with the captain, Nick Foligno, kicking things off with an unlikely deflection. Jordan Schroeder saw his initial shot take an upward bounce in front off of Foligno before fooling Frederik Andersen and dropping into the net, effectively breaking his shutout bid. It turned out to be his 9th goal of the season.

Pierre-Luc Dubois followed suit just moments later and notched the equalizer with a little help from Seth Jones. The duo entered the offensive zone with speed and kept defenders on their heels with a fast-paced attack. Jones carried the puck over the blue line before connecting with Dubois, who unleashed a quick wrist shot to firmly beat Andersen.

With the score tied 2-2, the Maple Leafs were destined to go to overtime for a third straight contest — to another 3-2 decision no less.

Overtime saw chances at both ends, which typically doesn’t end well for the team who fails to convert on the first attempt. William Nylander sprung Tyler Bozak on a breakaway at one end, who nearly delivered his team to another victory, however, Bobrovsky stood tall and sent play the other direction.

After a long shift, Nylander failed to pick up an assignment on the back-check and allowed Zach Werenski to play a give-and-go with Artemi Panarin. This forced Jake Gardiner to play both the shot and pass of either threat, which ended in Werenski feeding Panarin for a one-timer and the game winner.

It’s a safe bet that Toronto would’ve welcomed the idea of a third-straight shootout instead.

Nevertheless, it’s a tough pill to swallow but the Buds will hit the ice again on Wednesday looking to get back on track versus a lighter opponent — the Ottawa Senators. Don’t sleep on the Sens just yet, though. Ottawa has won two straight but will be on the second leg of a back-to-back situation come Wednesday.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Travis Dermott back in the lineup after logging 16:21 minutes of meaningful ice-time in tonight's loss. He looked right at home on the right-hand side regardless of it being just his second career game. As Mike Babcock said, "In an ideal world he would have been a right-hand shot and been on the team all year.”

Feel free to drop me a comment or suggestion:

E-mail - gordon@BarnBurner.ca

On Twitter - @GordBrown_

Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs