UPDATE: After being transported to hospital following an on-ice collision last night, Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin is back at the team’s hotel.
Muzzin was discharged overnight but will not be available to the club for the duration of its series versus the Columbus Blue Jackets as a result of his injury. He will remain in quarantine within the hotel and look to rejoin his teammates upon recovery.
Although the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup qualifying round deserved a more detailed explanation, Jackets head coach John Tortorella provided a CliffNotes version of the contest that evened the best-of-five series at 1-1.
“Toronto was really good. We sucked.”
Auston Matthews redirection past Joonas Korpisalo late in the second period gave the Leafs their first lead of the series after being frustrated by the Columbus defense and goaltender through almost five periods. John Tavares and Morgan Rielly also scored for Toronto and Frederik Andersen made 20 saves for his third career playoff shutout, in a game that had a decidedly different feel than the Game 1 shutout loss.
“Every game is going to be slightly different, it's going to have its own personality. Today I thought we forechecked really hard right from the start of the game and some loose pucks became available,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. “(That) gave us an extra opportunity to attack the net. That was a really good sign for us, but our guys brought it to another level today from a competitive standpoint and that really helped us in all regards.”
A different tone was set early in the game when Kyle Clifford hit Jackets defenseman Dean Kukan into the end boards and continued with the Leafs being able to apply their forecheck more effectively and find avenues into the Columbus zone to create scoring chances.
Keefe line tinkering and lineup changes also paid benefits, as Mitch Marner moved to the top line with Matthews and Zach Hyman, William Nylander was shifted to the second line with Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev, and Pierre Engvall was inserted at center on the fourth line with Clifford and Jason Spezza.
Tavares was dominant after a pedestrian effort in Game 1, leading Toronto with eight shots on goal, winning 11 of 18 faceoffs (61%) and scoring on a breakaway at 4:56 of the third period, and the fourth line with Engvall at center played effectively for nearly 10 minutes after barely being used in Game 1
"I think both games we had some pretty good looks, probably more so tonight, I think we just brought our compete level, getting to the net, (the) dirty areas and just trying to get on the inside where we can beat guys to the net.” Matthews said. “We came out with a strong push to start the game and I think just the communication factor was there tonight for us and a full effort throughout the lineup."
The performance may have proved as a momentum change for the series, but that changed late in the third period as Leafs blueliner Jake Muzzin was injured during a penalty kill.
Muzzin’s head collided with the knee of Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand after being cross-checked by Pierre-Luc Dubois. He was unable to get back to his skates, but interacted with the Leafs medical staff afterward. Precautionary measures were taken and Muzzin was taken off the ice on a stretcher, but the club reported shortly after the game that he was alert and moving all extremities and was being transported to a local hospital to be checked out.
"When you see one of your teammates go down, especially a guy like (Jake), you know the type of warrior he is. I think what he brings to our team is unmeasurable." Tavares said after the game. "All signs are very positive being around him and (it was) nice to close it out for him, but certainly tough to see."
Based on the NHL’s limits on reporting injuries, it will be difficult to find out any specifics on the extent of Muzzin’s injury. There are contradictory reports on whether his trip to the hospital (outside the bubble) will prevent the defenseman from returning in the series if he is medically cleared.
The stipulations in the Return to Play agreement say that a player would have to test negative for four consecutive days in isolation to be able to play again, which would keep Muzzin out for the rest of the Columbus series.
TSN’s Frank Seravalli reports that when Muzzin is cleared to re-enter bubble, there is no hard and fast rule for quarantine and/or testing required. It will be up to Hub Medical Director, in consultation with Event Medical Director, based his type and degree of exposure outside the bubble.
With Game 3 and 4 back-to-back Thursday and Friday, Keefe will have to replace Muzzin in the lineup. The likely scenario will be to promote Travis Dermott to the second pairing with former Marlies partner Justin Holl and inserting either Ramsus Sandin or Martin Marincin on the third pairing with Tyson Barrie.
Marincin was the seventh defenseman in the exhibition game vs. Montreal last week, skated in the pre-game on Tuesday and might be the logical choice based on his replacing Muzzin on the Leafs penalty kill, but the lanky Slovak has long been a liability on the ice at even strength. Sandin played 28 NHL games and showed promise as a rookie, but it is unknown whether Keefe will want to expose the 20 year old to the difficult challenge of facing the Blue Jackets forechecking in a playoff game.
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