Coming off a big win Monday night against the Boston Bruins, the task wouldn’t get any easier tonight as the Leafs traveled to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets, owners of the league’s third best record. In order to get two points tonight, the Leafs would have to be at their absolute best.
Columbus came out and dominated things early on as they peppered Freddie Andersen with five of the game’s first six shots. That would change as the Kadri line would begin a cycle in the Columbus end. Kadri lost the puck to Zach Werenski along the boards, however the puck seemed to hop on Werenski, ending up back on the stick of Kadri, who would zip a pass across to Leo Komarov. Leo was able to bury a shot from in close to give the Leafs a 1-0 lead. Shortly after, Eric Fehr would lay a questionable hit on a Blue Jacket along the boards, with no call, as the puck came along the far boards to Josh Anderson. Anderson attempted to clear the puck and was successful, but not before he was leveled by Connor Carrick. The Blue Jackets would lose their cool after this, swarming Carrick. Brandon Dubinsky was given the only penalty on the play, and the Leafs would take advantage on the ensuing power play as Auston Matthews would sweep home his own rebound to give them a 2-0 lead. The Leafs would get a late power play as Nazem Kadri would be caught with a high stick by Cam Atkinson, however they wouldn’t be able to extend their lead. The period would end 2-0.
The Blue Jackets started hot. Off the opening faceoff, Boone Jenner punched Eric Fehr in the face, hit Roman Polak and sent the puck behind the net, where Brandon Dubinsky fed David Savard to make it 2-1. The Leafs however would come back and generate pressure in the Columbus zone, however they were unable to beat Joonas Korpisalo. Six minutes later, after hitting Mitch Marner with a shot that was at least as questionable as the one from Fehr in the first period, Zach Werenski would fire a shot from the point, that would be tipped home by Brandon Saad to tie things up at 2. The Leafs would not fold up as we’ve seen in the past, as they would not only withstand all of the Blue Jackets’ pressure, they’d actually retake the lead as William Nylander was heading to the bench for a change when he was hit by David Savard. As Nylander was getting up, the Leafs managed to clear the puck out of the zone, where it ended up on Nylander’s stick and then in the back of the net as he ripped a shot past Korpisalo to give the Leafs a 3-2 lead that they’d take into the second intermission.
The third period didn’t get off to the best of starts for the Leafs, as Roman Polak hit Oliver Bjorkstrand from behind, resulting in a five minute major and a game misconduct. I’d expect Polak will hear from the league on that one as well as it was a pretty bad hit from behind. John Tortorella lost his mind following the call, although I’m not sure why, as Polak was given a major penalty and ejected. I guess the refs could have shot him on site, but that would’ve been pretty graphic, and perhaps an extreme reaction. In a peculiar turn of events, the Leafs neglected to put anyone in the box to serve Polak’s penalty, which resulted in a 6:53 penalty kill, as there were no whistles during that span. I think if there was an instructional video on how to kill a penalty, this PK by the Leafs would be in it. Columbus had only a single shot, and no dangerous chances. The Leafs would continue to defend the lead, and defend it well, getting sticks in passing lanes and breaking up most of Columbus’ dangerous chances, until Nazem Kadri scored his 30th goal of the season late in the period off a pass from Leo Komarov. Columbus would challenge for offside, but the goal would stand. Nikita Zaitsev would add an empty netter to give the Leafs a 5-2 win to move them past the Boston Bruins into third place in the Atlantic division. The Leafs will be in action again tomorrow night as they face the New Jersey Devils at Air Canada Center.
Toronto Goal 8:55 L. Komarov (12) assisted by N. Kadri
Toronto Goal 10:54 A. Matthews (33) (power play) assisted by W. Nylander and J. Gardiner
Columbus Goal 0:43 D. Savard (6) assisted by B. Dubinsky and B. Jenner
Columbus Goal 6:58 B. Saad (21) assisted by Z. Werenski and S. Gagner
Toronto Goal 13:23 W. Nylander (20) assisted by T. Bozak
Toronto Goal 15:46 N. Kadri (30) assisted by L. Komarov and N. Zaitsev
Toronto Goal 17:13 N. Zaitsev (4) assisted by J. Gardiner
SHOTS BY PERIOD
POST GAME SCRUM