Clash of styles: Columbus, Toronto face off in short series

Clash of styles: Columbus, Toronto face off in short series

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ body-banging, shot-blocking, harassing defensive style frustrated the offensively gifted Tampa Bay Lightning in a stunning first-round playoff sweep last year.

After a long break and hurried training camp, the Blue Jackets now will see if they can summon that kind of intensity again. This time the opponent is the Toronto Maple Leafs, another team that relies heavily on a cadre of goal-scoring stars to make the difference.

The best-of-five playoff qualifying series opens Sunday night in Toronto.

“We’ll probably see some wild hockey games,” said Maple Leafs captain John Tavares, who had 26 goals and 34 assists when the season was put on hold in mid-March.

“I keep reading that a lot of people feel that this is probably going to be the hardest Stanley Cup to win with everybody being fresh,” said Auston Matthews, the 22-year-old Toronto centre who led the team with 44 goals. “I’m not sure anybody really knows what to expect.”

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the teams will play in an arena with no fans and be confined at all times inside the playoff “bubble” with strict safety and testing protocols. The 24-team playoffs are being conducted in two hub cities, Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta.

“This is your legacy as a player, this is what you’re remembered for when your career is over — not the regular season stuff, it’s how you handle yourself in the atmosphere of playoffs,” said Columbus coach John Tortorella, who has stayed in character as the cajoling, irascible taskmaster since his players returned from the break two weeks ago.

“This is a little bit different,” he said. “There’s no fans, I’m not sure exactly how it’s all going to play out, but it’s still playoff hockey.”

GOALS IN ABUNDANCE

Toronto boasted the second-highest goal total in the NHL (237), behind only the Lightning. Four players — Tavares, Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander — had at least 59 points. Columbus’ leading scorer, Pierre-Luc Dubois, had 49.

But the Maple Leafs also surrendered the seventh-most goals at 222. That, coach Sheldon Keefe said, must change if the team is going to advance.

“There’s no area of our game defensively that we were satisfied with,” said Keefe, promoted after Mike Babcock was fired in November. “We’re not kidding ourselves here, we know that there’s a lot of areas that we need to look at.”

JACKETS HEALTHY AGAIN

Columbus was a hard-luck bunch when it came to injuries this season. They led the NHL with more than 400 man-games missed and were relying on rookies to help them keep up with the other playoff contenders in the Metropolitan Division when the season was halted.

Among many others, the injured included star defenceman Seth Jones, top goal-scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand, veteran forward Cam Atkinson and, at different times, both of the top goalies.

Thanks to the long break, the black-and-blue Blue Jackets are nearly at full-strength again.

SPEAKING OF GOALIES

Tortorella has yet to name a starter at goaltender for the series, but neither Joonas Korpisalo nor Elvis Merzlikins were stunning in the final scrimmages before the team left for Toronto.

Korpisalo, whose first half was good enough to get him named the NHL All-Star team before he went down with a knee injury Dec. 29, surrendered 13 goals in back-to-back scrimmages last week.

That could give the edge to Merzlikins, the Latvian who was lights out for Columbus in January in February in relief of Korpisalo.

Meanwhile, the Maple Leafs are hoping their top goalie, Frederik Andersen, has his mojo back.

Through 52 starts this season, Andersen was 29-13-7 with a .909 save percentage and a 2.85 goals-against average — the worst statistical performance of his career. He suffered a neck injury in February but returned to put up a 5-1-1 record with a .931 save percentage in his last seven starts before the hiatus.

___

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

___

Follow Mitch Stacy on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mitchstacy

Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press

NHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

"We are looking seriously at the spread and determining what our next steps should be," says Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as the daily number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb.
427 new COVID cases is highest in Alberta ever

Central zone has 126 active cases of COVID-19

JJ Collett Natural Area Foundation held its AGM on Oct. 19 at the Ponoka Legion. (Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
De-listing Alberta parks creates ‘risk’ for coal mining: CPAWS

Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society speaks at JJ Collett AGM

ACC President and CEO Ken Kobly spoke to Ponoka Chamber of Commerce members over Zoom on Oct. 20. (Image: screenshot)
Alberta chambers are ‘411’ to members, government: ACC president

Changes to government supports, second wave and snap election

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Temporary COVID-19 testing sites coming to Wetaskiwin and Ponoka

The Wetaskiwin location will open Oct. 23, 2020 and the Ponoka location will open Oct. 29.

(File photo)
Ponoka’s seen rise in relationship ‘disharmony,’ domestic violence during COVID-19

While there has been an increase in files, not all have required charges to be laid

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney arrives for an announcement at a news conference in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020.	Kenney is isolating at home after one of his ministers tested positive for COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Alberta premier tests negative for COVID-19 but will isolate for a week

Kenney said he will isolate until Oct. 29 and, in the meantime, work from home

Smartphone showing various applications to social media services and Google. (Pixabay photo)
National media calling for level playing field with Google, Facebook

In Canada, Google and Facebook control 80 per cent of all online advertising revenues

RCMP. (Black Press File Photo)
Calgary man dies in two-vehicle collision near Sylvan Lake

A semi truck collided with a SUV just east of Hwy. 781 on Hwy 11.

RCMP. (Phil McLachlan - Black Press Media)
British Columbia man dies during ski trip near glacier west of Calgary

Kananaskis Public Safety and Alpine Helicopters responded around 2:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Monday, Oct. 19, 2020, following a week-long break for the House of Commons. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
One crisis after another for Trudeau since last federal election one year ago

It has been a year of unprecedented calamity and crisis

Alberta's provincial flag flies on a flag pole in Ottawa, Monday, July 6, 2020. Advisers are reportedly recommending Alberta's kindergarten to Grade 4 arts and social studies curriculum remove all references to residential schools because it's "too sad" for young children. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Advisers suggest Alberta students not learn about residential schools before Grade 4

Documents suggest children younger than Grade 4 are too emotionally vulnerable to learn about residential schools

robbery
UPDATE: Shooting suspect arrested by Wetaskiwin/Camrose RCMP

Rimbey RCMP had responded to a complaint of an armed robbery at the Bluffton City General Store

File photo
RCMP’s response to online discussions about anti-racism demonstrations

Ponoka RCMP Staff Sgt.’s comments misattributed online

Most Read