Sorry Maple Leaf fans but last night was not that same reoccurring bad dream you often think you’re having. Last night happened, again. To say this game was short of entertainment would be a crime.
Not only did it have a major comeback, but it also featured a first NHL goal, a shorthanded goal from someone least expected and of course, overtime. The roller-coaster of emotions this game brought its viewers was extremely stimulating yet infuriating. Considering Toronto at some point had a three-goal lead and was ahead by two entertaining the third period, one would only assume that there was no extra time needed.
In true Toronto fashion, the team took their foot off the gas early and paid the price. However, Columbus deserves credit for their victory. They played hard all game and never once looked to be defeated, even when down three. No, I don’t think they were the better team last night for more than a thirty-minute stretch, but last night was exactly the type of game that John Tortorella coaches and has been so successful with throughout his career. The Blue Jackets are exactly like that pesky mosquito that just won’t move away from your ear while attempting to enjoy an evening around a fire. They annoyingly linger around long enough and wait for their opponents’ mistakes, capitalize, and never look back.
Midway through the second period, following the third Toronto goal, Tortorella decided to replace Joonas Korpisalo for Elvis Merzlikins which proved to be the spark that his team needed. Columbus gained momentum from the goaltending change and was able to score only a few short minutes after. The game flipped upside down after Pierre-Luc Dubious scored his first of three goals on the night. From then on, Columbus was easily able to establish speed in the neutral zone with quick passes and hard forechecks. This allowed their defencemen to join the rush and swallow Toronto defensively. This forced the Maple Leafs to backpedal, consistently giving the Blue Jackets room to enter their zone.
Three of the four goals scored by Columbus in the third period were off of a bad turnover in Toronto’s D-zone. It wasn’t the best defensive effort Toronto has shown this season and even without Muzzin, there is no real excuse to blowing a three-goal lead.
Clearly, it was a mental lapse more than anything. No, the excuse that they are still young and learning has come and gone about two seasons ago. Now, it simply comes down to not focusing for the full sixty minutes and thinking the game is over well before it is. Is this becoming a leadership problem? There is no reason why this roster is incapable of holding leads or at worst, regaining the lead once forfeited. Where is the drive? Passion? Desire to win? It’s a short series, so I understand that there is no time to dwell, and maybe the fact they play game four tonight is actually a good thing for Toronto but something has to change and change quickly.
The past is the past and onto game four we go. Toronto can decide their own fate as they truly have been the better team for the majority if not all of the series. This bounce-back game is nothing new for the Maple Leafs as they have found themselves in this position more times than not. However this time, the response will dictate their season rather than just a couple of points.