Any keen NHL observer had to expect at some point during the Stanley Cup Playoffs that the Toronto Maple Leafs defensive flaws would be revealed and that unfortunately occurred in Game 3 of their best-of-five series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, as the Leafs blew a three-goal lead and lost 4-3 in overtime on Pierre-Luc Dubois’ third goal of the game. Toronto now has to prove that they can shake off another disappointing playoff loss in less than 24 hours, as they face elimination in Game 4 at Scotiabank Arena on Friday.
Cody Ceci, William Nylander and Nick Robertson gave Toronto a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, but could not play effectively with the lead and allowed Columbus to chip away at the lead, with Dubois scoring in the middle frame to get the Blue Jackets on the board and Seth Jones and Dubois tying the game in the third before the Jackets center scored the game winner past Frederik Andersen at 18:24 of overtime to give Columbus a 2-1 lead in the series.
"When (Columbus) got (the first) goal, it just seemed to give them some life and we just didn't do a lot of the things that we consistently did previously in Game 2, especially wearing them out in their zone." Leafs captain John Tavares said after the game. "They got some life, some jump and started creating some transition opportunities and were putting a lot of pucks towards the net. When you get a 3-0 lead, we have to find a way to close that one out."
Rookie goalie Elvis Merzlikins relieved starter Joonas Korpisalo after Toronto made it 3-0 on Robertson’s first NHL goal and stopped all 21 Leafs shots. Frederik Andersen made 39 saves in the loss, but was more a victim of a shoddy Toronto effort than being responsible for the defeat.
"I feel like the game just got away from us right from the start. I didn't like our game in the first period, at 1-0, 2-0 or 3-0. We just got what we deserved today, I thought we reverted back to a lot of really bad habits, we didn't have any real purpose or plan to our game today and we're just making it up as we go along," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said after the game. "We've got to put this one behind us and be ready to come back tomorrow."
With games on back-to-back nights, both teams did not practice. Jackets head coach John Tortorella indicated that Merzlikins would make the start. Toronto went 2-8-3 in back-to-back games during the regular season but opted to start backups in most of them instead of Andersen.
The task for the Leafs will be whether they can clear their minds of a missed opportunity to put a stranglehold on the series and rebound to force a fifth and deciding game on Sunday.
“(We have to) just erase it. We're a team that's been bouncing back all year from things that didn't go our way. We've always showed up the next game and played our hearts out. We've got to refocus, get ready.” Leafs forward Mitch Marner said. “It's quick turnaround. We know that they're going to want to finish this out. We've got to make sure we're playing smart, playing above(the puck). We got away from that tonight and let them get too many odd-man rushes, too flowy for them. It's something we've got to clean up.”
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