Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure. CP photo

Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure. CP photo

Korpisalo gets shutout in 1st post-season start, Blue Jackets down Maple Leafs

‘They play a pretty straightforward game’

TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have known since late May the Columbus Blue Jackets were on the docket to begin the NHL’s restart.

Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure.

Seeing it up close was an entirely different matter.

Joonas Korpisalo made 28 saves in his first post-season appearance, Cam Atkinson scored in the third period, and the Blue Jackets downed the Leafs 2-0 on Sunday to take an early lead in their best-of-five qualifying round series.

Sure, Toronto had chances, but not nearly enough. The Leafs weren’t able to get to the inside against a tough blue-line corps led by Seth Jones and Zack Werenski that mostly neutralized Auston Matthews’ line with the help of Pierre-Luc Dubois up front.

“I don’t think anything really surprised us,” said Matthews, who was third in the league with 47 goals in 2019-20. “They play a pretty straightforward game, and you know what to expect every night. They’re gonna compete, they’re gonna play physical.”

Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for Toronto, but was fooled on Atkinson’s innocent effort from the top of the right circle 65 seconds into the third.

“His initial release looked to be a little bit higher,” said the Leafs netminder, who was beaten under his blocker. ”I reacted up and obviously made a mistake.

“That cost us a goal and eventually the game, unfortunately.”

The Leafs were designated as the “home” team inside the friendly confines of a cavernous, empty Scotiabank Arena as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed in the NHL’s 24-team restart to a campaign halted by the COVID-19 pandemic 4 1/2 months ago.

Alex Wennberg scored into an empty net with 18.2 seconds left for ninth-seeded Columbus, which will now look to grab a stranglehold with a victory in Tuesday’s Game 2.

“I felt pretty confident from the get-go,” said the 26-year-old Korpisalo. ”The boys played really good in front of me, battling for me to see the puck.

“That was awesome. That was fun to play.”

After the Blue Jackets nudged ahead early in the third, the Leafs tried to get their high-octane offence going, but were unable to get many second and third opportunities, and were held without a shot over the final 6:12 of regulation.

Andersen kept the Toronto in it with a toe save on Alexandre Texier with under three minutes to go, but his teammates couldn’t find a way through to Korpisalo before Wennberg sealed it.

“They did what they do best, and what we were prepared for,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who played for Columbus bench boss John Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early 2000s. ”We knew it was going to be difficult.

“Now we’re out on the ice and you feel it.”

Following a scoreless opening 20 minutes that featured a couple of clear-cut chances, the goalies stole the show in the second.

Korpisalo, who got the nod ahead of first-year sensation Elvis Merzlikins, denied Matthews at the side of the net on an early power play, while Andersen stopped Eric Robinson on a break and Texier from the slot.

The Columbus netminder had his bench up banging their sticks on the boards later in the period when he robbed Matthews with the glove on a one-timer.

“He played unbelievable,” Blue Jackets defenceman David Savard said. ”He made some key saves, I think on Matthews there in the second was a turning point for us.

“That was huge for our game.”

Jones then fired a shot off the crossbar before Andersen robbed Oliver Bjorkstrand — both players are from Herning, Denmark — with an exceptional toe stop that the deserved a standing ovation, not the din of canned crowd noise.

“I’d expect more of these games moving forward,” Leafs blue-liner Morgan Rielly said of the defensive struggle. ”And I would also expect for us to be able to handle them better.”

Rookie winger Nick Robertson suited up for Toronto after scoring 55 goals in 46 games in 2019-20 with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, becoming the first 18-year-old to make his NHL debut in the post-season since Jarome Iginla in 1996.

Robertson had a terrific opportunity on his first shift, but Korpisalo was there with his right pad. The Leafs, who were back in their home locker room after making way for the Montreal Canadiens in Tuesday’s exhibition game, were otherwise on their heels the rest of the first half of the first period.

Andersen made a good stop on a Dubois breakaway before Matthews stole the puck and chimed a shot off Korpisalo’s crossbar. Werenski then did the same off the near post at the other end moments later.

Both teams were close to full health after the schedule was suspended March 12. Jones would have been a serious question mark with an ankle injury had the playoffs started as usual in April, while Toronto blue-liner Jake Muzzin (hand) and Ilya Mikheyev (wrist laceration) are also back. Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson (knee) continues to work his way back and could be available as the resumption of play progresses, should his team advance.

Prior to Sunday, the Leafs last played a meaningful game March 10 — a stretch of 145 days — while the Blue Jackets’ last suited up for real March 8.

Toronto and Columbus sat with identical points percentages (.579) when the novel coronavirus shuttered the season, but the Leafs secured the eighth seed with 28 regulation wins compared to the Blue Jackets’ 25.

“Two teams that were tight together in the standings, two teams that are very competitive,” Keefe said. ”I thought we played a good enough game to win.

“But obviously, you can’t win when you don’t score.”

Notes: Toronto owns a 7-8 record all-time in best-of-five series, with those 15 appearances being the most in league history. The NHL used to play best-of-five in the first round, but expanded to a best-of-seven format following the 1985-86 season. … The Blue Jackets and Leafs played twice in the regular season, but it was a while ago. Toronto picked up a 4-1 victory in Columbus on Oct. 4 before suffering a 4-3 overtime loss at home Oct. 21.

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

Just Posted

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

(Emily Jaycox/Ponoka News)
FortisAlberta’s ‘Lights of Joy’ bring smiles to Ponoka seniors

Residents of Golden Leisure Lodge treated to a light display

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

(Photo submitted)
Ermineskin citizen graduates vet school, is part of busy practice

Dr. Justin Hodgson is rolling up his sleeves in Meadow Lake, Sask.

Jeffery Kraft. Photo submitted
Family of Jeffery Kraft feels ‘robbed’ after one accused discharged

Family of victim responds to preliminary hearing in homicide case

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

A B.C. Ambulance Service paramedic wearing a face mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 moves a stretcher outside an ambulance at Royal Columbia Hospital, in New Westminster, B.C., on Sunday, November 29, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Top doctor urges Canadians to limit gatherings as ‘deeply concerning’ outbreaks continue

Canada’s active cases currently stand at 63,835, compared to 53,907 a week prior

A Canadian Pacific freight train travels around Morant’s Curve near Lake Louise, Alta., on Monday, Dec. 1, 2014. A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths along the railway tracks in Banff and Yoho national parks in Alberta and British Columbia has found that train speed is one of the biggest factors. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

Research concludes effective mitigation could address train speed and ability of wildlife to see trains

A airport worker is pictured at Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C. Wednesday, March 18, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Canada extends COVID restrictions for non-U.S. travellers until Jan. 21 amid second wave

This ban is separate from the one restricting non-essential U.S. travel

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

A person enters a building as snow falls in Ottawa, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020. Ottawa has been successful in limiting the spread of COVID-19 during its second wave thanks to the city’s residents who have been wearing masks and staying home, said Ottawa’s medical officer of health Dr. Vera Etches. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
People to thank for Ottawa’s success with curbing COVID-19: health officer

The city’s chief medical officer said much of the credit goes to the people who live in Ottawa

Most Read