The best defence is sometimes a good offence, a lesson the Columbus Blue Jackets learned the hard way on Tuesday afternoon.
After being silenced in game one, the Toronto Maple Leafs used their lethal offence to bludgeon the Blue Jackets into submission in game two of their Stanley Cup Qualifying matchup, levelling the series at one-apiece with a 3-0 victory.
Toronto pummeled the Jackets right from the opening faceoff and their persistence was finally rewarded when Auston Matthews scored to put the Leafs ahead late in the second period.
Once they had the lead, the game was never in doubt, with captain John Tavares adding a breakaway goal in the third period before Morgan Rielly iced it with an empty netter.
The Blue Jackets defence, which dominated game one, was overwhelmed by the Toronto forecheck in game two as the Leafs completely dominated the play at both ends of the ice.
Stronger start for Leafs
It obvious immediately that the Maple Leafs were trying to set a different tone in game two.
In game one, it was the Blue Jackets who started strong, going on offence immediately.
This time, it was the Leafs who looked like they had been shot out of a gun to start the opening period. The boys in blue were flying right from the opening face-off, establishing control of the puck and putting pressure on the Jackets defence.
The Leafs used not only their speed and puck skills to apply pressure, they were far more physical than they were in game one, using their bodies to help establish control and pen up the Blue Jackets in their own zone.
Kyle Clifford’s crushing hit on Dean Kukan early in the first period set the tone for a far-more aggressive Leafs forecheck
Toronto registered the first six shots of the game, outshooting Columbus 15-6 in the first period.
Jackets get taste of own medicine
Game one was an example of defensive strategy executed to perfection by the Blue Jackets. Columbus used their forecheck to corner the Leafs in their own end, prevent them from moving through the neutral zone, and keeping them away from the slot in front of the net.
The same strategy was on display in game two, only it was the Leafs executing it.
Toronto’s forecheck dominated this game. The Blue Jackets struggled to get out of their own end all night, as there was a Leaf on the puck at all times in the offensive zone. The Leafs forwards did an incredible job of controlling the puck and creating turnovers when the Jackets tried to clear the zone.
When Columbus did get out of their own end, the Leafs would fall back and clog up the neutral zone, preventing the Blue Jackets from getting into the over the far blue line with any kind of control.
There were no second chances for the Jackets offence. Most of the shots came from the outside, much as Toronto’s did in game one, and the Leafs defenders were all over the rebounds.
And that is when there were even first chances to begin with. Toronto’s forecheck was so overwhelming that the Blue Jackets only registered their 10th shot of the game with three minutes to go in the second period, at which point the Leafs were already up 1-0.
In the end, the Blue Jackets only managed 20 shots, all of which were turned away by Freddie Andersen. In game one, they had 35.
In comparison, Toronto had 28 shots in game one. Matthews’ opening goal with four minutes to go in the second period of game two came on the Leafs’ 28th shot. The Leafs almost doubled the Blue Jackets in the shots department, 39-20.
Another positive result of the Leafs’ persistent aggressive was a breakdown in the Blue Jackets’ discipline.
After being the least penalized team in the NHL in the regular season and only taking one penalty in game one, the Blue Jackets had five in game two. Most of those penalties came out of desperation trying to slow down the Leafs’ offence.
Even though Toronto was 0-5 on the powerplay, it was ten minutes where the Jackets had no chance of turning the tide on offence.
Korpisalo stays hot
Blue Jackets’ goalie Joonas Korpisalo did not allow a goal for the first 96 minutes he played in the NHL playoffs. That is a pretty great start to his playoff career.
If not for Korpisalo’s outstanding performance, this game could have been a lot worse for the Blue Jackets.
The netminder stood on his head once again, stopping the first 27 shots he faced in game two and giving his team a chance to sneak out the win.
Unfortunately for the Finn, he got a taste of how Andersen felt in game one, getting no support from his offence and being forced to win the game on his own.
Despite his heroics, making spectacular save after spectacular save, with the way the Leafs were completely dominating the flow of the game, once Matthews put the Leafs ahead the result was never in doubt.
Much like the Leafs wasted Andersen’s stellar effort in game one, the Blue Jackets could not take advantage of another Korpisalo gem in game two.
In the end, Korpisalo made 36 saves. He just needed to make two more to have a chance. It turned out to be asking too much.
On the other side of the ice, Andersen continued his great impression of a brick wall. After only making one mistake in game one, he made none in game two.
While he did not have much work to do through two periods, Andersen was ready when he needed to be. The desperate Blue Jackets applied more pressure in the third period, but the Leafs’ netminder was up to every challenge the visitors threw at him. He has stopped 54 of 55 shots through two games.
Leafs lose Muzzin
A scary moment occurred in the final minutes of this game when Leafs’ D-man Jake Muzzin was crossed checked behind his own net and fell, with his head making contact with the leg of the Blue Jackets’ Oliver Bjorkstrand.
Muzzin was down for several minutes, conscious and talking but unable to get up, before being taken off the ice on a stretcher.
The Leafs announced Tuesday night that he had been taken to hospital before revealing on Wednesday morning that he had been discharged and is quarantining in the team hotel, but will not be available for the remainder of the series.
The loss is massive for the Leafs, as Muzzin is the team’s best physical shut-down defenceman.
Muzzin had also been a huge part of the Leafs’ success in game two. His physical play was a big reason why the Columbus offence was completely impotent, and he will be difficult to replace.
Game three will take place on Thursday night.