The Columbus Blue Jackets won seven of their last nine coming into tonight, but now they run a gauntlet of a schedule over the next week. First up, the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Leafs were coming off a bad loss to the Montreal Canadiens just one night prior, but remain solidly in the number three position in the Atlantic division.
JF Berube got his second start in a row for the Jackets, filling in for an injured Merzlikins and Korpisalo. Brad Larsen has been sticking to what works, so could the Jackets continue their upwards trend against the Leafs?
The play was pretty even early on. The first line of the Jackets came out buzzing off the faceoff with Laine and Werenski creating a couple of chances, but no dice. Jack Campbell made an impressive save on Gaunce, who almost got the puck into an open net after a puck handling blunder by Campbell.
A very strong first period received a tough blow when the Maple Leafs struck first. The Jackets were strong on the forecheck and did a great job of keeping the Leafs from exiting the zone. The Leafs were able to get the puck down the ice, but the Jackets’ defense was there to intercept. Unfortunately, Chinakhov would botch a clearing pass right onto the stick of Marner, which led to the 1-0 goal.
TOR Goal 1-0: Bunting (Marner, Matthews) 12:50
Late in the first period, Wayne Simmonds put his shoulder right into the head of Werenski along the boards. It was an unnecessary hit done in an unnecessary way. There was no call, which seems to be par for the course for the NHL these days.
The Leafs caught another break when a Boqvist shot rolled around on a spinning Campbell’s back. The puck could have easily bounced across the line, but chose not to.
Noteworthy: The Jackets played a very good first period, minus the bad clearing attempt that led to the Toronto goal. They won the 5v5 shot attempts battle 22-10. Luckily for the Leafs, Campbell was up to the task.
The Jackets got their first power play to start the period. Unfortunately, the Leafs’ aggressive kill was successful as the Jackets struggled to gain and keep the zone.
The Jackets tied the game not long after when a Werenski stretch pass found Jenner, who dropped the puck to a trailing Laine. The Finn extended his point streak to ten games with a snapper that Campbell couldn’t get his glove on.
CBJ Goal 1-1: Laine (Jenner, Werenski) 6:13
The ice tilted hard towards Toronto after the Laine goal. The Jackets and Berube stood tall for a good amount of time, but the onslaught eventually wore them down. The Matthews line pinned them into their own zone and a relentless forecheck led to a Matthews goal that Berube had no chance of saving.
TOR Goal 2-1: Matthews (Kampf, Bunting) 15:23
Berube was forced to make several more good saves before the period ended. With just ten seconds left, Laine was able to draw a penalty while attempting to get free for a breakaway. That’s a significant contribution, at an important time, from a guy that has been playing very well lately.
Noteworthy: The Leafs dominated the second period and won the shot attempt battle 18-6. The Jackets did what they needed to do to stay in the game, however. Unlike other games against top teams this season, they didn’t let a bad period get away from them.
The second power play unit got a rare goal to start the third. Boqvist took it upon himself to go coast to coast and rocket the puck past Campbell. The young defenseman continues to show us how dangerous he can be with the puck. Berube added to his night by getting the lone assist.
CBJ PP Goal 2-2: Boqvist (Berube) 1:06
NHL Video Highlight - Adam Boqvist scores a power-play goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 2-2. pic.twitter.com/tLO512OB6y— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) February 23, 2022
The Jackets took the lead before the halfway point when a missed pass sprung Gaunce on a breakaway. The Cleveland callup put it through Campbell’s five-hole for his third goal. This writer has been skeptical of the older callups from Cleveland, but Gaunce has been a difference maker in his seven games.
CBJ Goal 3-2: Gaunce (unassisted) 7:13
NHL Video Highlight - Brendan Gaunce scores against the Toronto Maple Leafs to make it 3-2. pic.twitter.com/UDrGH9Nwkd— Blue Jackets Game Bot (@CBJGameBot) February 23, 2022
The pace of the game kicked up a notch after the Gaunce goal. The Leafs began pushing hard, but the Jackets did a great job disrupting zone entries and clogging up the space in front of Berube.
Unfortunately, the Leafs would tie up the game with two minutes left on a questionable set of events. Matthews knocked the puck out of the air with a high stick and then Spezza kicked the puck into the net past Berube. It looked like an obvious kicking motion, but it also looked like Spezza might have gotten a stick on it after the kick. The play was reviewed, but the call on the ice was upheld. Personally, I’ve seen enough of those kind of plays overturned to think that one should have been.
TOR Goal 3-3: Spezza (Matthews, Tavares) 17:54
Redemption twenty seconds in. Werenski gathered the puck and sent it up to Voracek. Jake entered the zone with speed and found Laine, who ripped the puck through the legs of Matthews and past Campbell. Jackets win!
CBJ Goal 4-3: Laine (Voracek, Werenski) 0:20
Patrik Freaking Laine. He’s on a ten game point streak that’s comprised of twelve goals and eight assists. He drew a penalty at the end of the second period that ultimately led to the Boqvist goal. He’s been engaged at both ends of the ice recently and has been playing at an elite level.
JF Berube deserves a ton of credit for how he has played in the last two games. He made several key stops and kept the Jackets in the game when the Leafs were surging.
This is the kind of growth you want to see out of a young team. There were a few mistakes, but the skaters played pretty well in front of Berube. Not only that, but they didn’t let the game get away from them when Toronto dominated stretches of the game. They held their own physically and didn’t get intimidated.
That’s eight wins in the last ten games — good for second in the league behind the Calgary Flames. Things are looking up, folks.
The Jackets are heading to South Florida to take on the Panthers Thursday at 7:00PM.