Despite the 4-2 final score, the Columbus Blue Jackets weren’t totally outplayed by the Toronto Maple Leafs (though in small stretches you could make a case for that). Columbus had, what felt like, as many chances as they wanted to to make something happen but were never able to do so as they saw their five-game winning streak come to a close.
John Tavares netted the first goal after an early power play when Josh Anderson was sent to the box for tripping (“tripping”) and the Leafs were rewarded, catching Sergei Bobrovsky out of position, just momentarily, as the puck slid off the back of Tavares’ skate from right in front to give Toronto a 1-0 lead.
Columbus responded nicely, picking up the pace and getting the game underneath them with puck possession and a formidable forecheck before tying the game from a laser by Nick Foligno, making it 1-1.
From there, it felt pretty even, though Toronto was breaking through more often for scoring chances. They finally broke through in the final two minutes of the game, again by Tavares, this one on a wrist shot from the dot, beating Bob glove side and making it 2-1.
It took a while for the second period to get going and when it did, it saw a lot of chance for both sides - the Leafs in the middle part of the period and the Blue Jackets towards the end of the frame.
A four-on-four was handed out after a scuffle in the corner of the Jackets’ defensive zone, which started with Pierre Luc-Dubois throwing an elbow against a Toronto player leading to roughing penalties for Scott Harrington and Kasperi Kapanen.
The Blue Jackets had a good look from right in front (a trend that was, furiously, never capitalized on all game) but it, of course, turned into a rush for the Maple Leafs that turned into a goal for Mitchel Marner, making it a 3-1 game.
The Jackets, again, responded well after the goal, but not well enough to find the back of the net as the Leafs took a two-goal advantage into the second intermission.
Columbus came out of the games with their skates on fire, so much so that Anthony Duclair dove to make a play and ended up sliding into the boards and was a bit slow to get up.
However, the fast pace didn’t lead anything productive and eventually slowed down as the period progressed.
Columbus held steady until a little over the halfway point in the third, when Marner led an odd break that saw him fall to the ice, keep the handle on the puck and feed to Frederik Gauthier, who found the smallest opening and banged the puck through against Bob, making for a 4-1 game.
The 4th line has been great tonight and their effort gets rewarded. It starts with a smart clear from Trevor Moore who springs free Par Lindholm. He proceeds to set up Frederik Gauthier who buried it. 4-1 Leafs. #LeafsForever pic.twitter.com/ZRAY2NdJ4h— Maple Leafs Hotstove (@LeafsNews) December 29, 2018
That goal essentially sealed the fate for Columbus, though they did get one more, as Panarin stopped trying to feed others (which drove me crazy all game; especially on a night where so little was going right, make plays yourself, don’t try to feed someone else) and took care of business himself, notching his 100th career goal.
Artemi Panarin fires a cannon to put the Jackets back within 2, 4-2 with about 90 seconds to go pic.twitter.com/T8e4ZgziXt— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) December 29, 2018
Outside of the power play still looking...awful, at times...the Blue Jackets, as a whole, looked solid. This is far from a “worry yourself sick about what’s around the corner” loss (gee, when’s the last time that happened?) as the Jackets were able to bounce back with energy and create chances. You could see the relief come off Panarin’s face after he scored the second goal, as he (and I’ll bet a lot of other guys) thought “finally,” as they broke through, though it’d be too little too late.
With the back-to-back behind them, the Jackets will get to rest their legs before a New Year’s Even clash with Ottawa.