No, you’re not reading the same story from Thursday night. And yes, I’m sure it’s not the other way around. Though I understand your skepticism, yet another 3-0 deficit was blown. On back-to-back nights no less. But, as they say, you’ve seen one 3-0 lead blown, you’ve seen them all. Then again..
Hockey in August, in Toronto, it’s a reality. And while the weather has had its impact on ice conditions, it’s become a welcomed sight for fans. But, Friday, the life of the hub’s hometown team was on the line and looked to be decided in the closing minutes of regulation.
A night after overcoming a 3-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead in a best-of-five series, the Blue Jackets picked up right where they left off. Cam Atkinson scored 3:58 into the first for an early lead before Vladislav Gavrikov took a long shot to the net that caught an opposition player’s stick for a deflection for a multi-goal lead in the second.
Elvis Merzlikins, a night after helping the Jackets cause in relief effort, made 31 saves in the game’s first 40 minutes and added another five saves in the third before Boone Jenner’s tally 14:18 into the third made it a 3-0. Perhaps a bit of irony, for when the remaining 5:42 on the clock ran down, the Blue Jackets would skate off with a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, sending the Leafs, who unlike the Jackets on Thursday, who rallied late in the second and had a full third to add to it, simply ran out of time.
A William Nylander wrister with the net empty at 3:57 to go, ended the shutout bid of Merzlikins that dated back to one night earlier, but 3-1, even absent the departing Zach Werenski (undisclosed), was a challenge for the Leafs, who have admittedly struggled with the Columbus’ defensive efforts.
A John Tavares tally on the next Leaf shot 16:54 into the third seemed a bit injected life onto the Toronto bench, while creeping in a bit of doubt to the team who enjoyed its own comeback one night ago. But, when a Zach Hyman shot off a feed from Auston Matthews with 23 seconds remaining beat Merzlikins for the equalizer, it was no longer ironic. But it still wasn’t the tale from a night ago.
Of course not until a Nick Foligno trip on Morgan Rielly, seen smashing his stick while on the bench with 5:42 remaining in the third, sent Toronto to their fourth power play of the contest after coming up empty on three in regulation. A Rielly hold at the line kept the puck in play for Mitch Marner and Tavares, who found Matthews, this time the shooter, ready to fire home the winner.
Like I said, you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. Then again..
“I’ve never been a part of anything like that,” Leafs forward, Jason Spezza said. “With the fire-power we have, the way they can put the puck in the net, we’re never out of it.”
That fire-power might’ve been one reason why Columbus couldn’t close out the game in regulation–as a cutting Matthews opted to send the puck over to Hyman.
“I saw Auston in the middle,” Hyman said. “I thought he was going to shoot it, too. He came back to me, I got it off my skate and just tried to throw it to the net. (Tavares) had a great screen and it went in. It was crazy.”
The series, which started as a meeting between the defensively-sound Jackets and the high-octane offense, trading wins that played into their strengths. But through four games, they’ve also taken on some new looks, especially in desperate times.
“I think just resilience,” Matthews said. “You’re going to go through up’s and down’s here. I think we’ve definitely been through our share. That’s just par for the course here. You just try to stick with it; focus on what we can control and focus on what we have in the locker room.”
Up next, a deciding fifth game for the two teams and providers of entertaining, who won’t say die on the season.
“That’s playoff hockey,” Toronto head coach, Sheldon Keefe said. “That’s guys not wanting to go down literally without a fight. It was great. It would have been so disappointing of course for it to end the way it was looking like it was going to. I mean, this is a funny game. I think there have been times in this season where we haven’t been rewarded perhaps when we should have. We got a little bit of good fortune today as a result of some of our resilience.”
The series finale will be Sunday night at 8 p.m.