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Game #57 Recap: Blue Jackets comeback bid falls short, Leafs win 5-4

Here’s what happened.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Columbus Blue Jackets Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Following two after-regulation losses on Friday and Saturday night, the Columbus Blue Jackets returned to the ice on Monday looking to get back to their winning ways against the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Blue Jackets, who just beat the Leafs behind a stellar performance from J-F Berube on February 22, looked to win the season series with a victory.

The Blue Jackets did get some reinforcements back in the lineup - the team activated both Jake Bean and Joonas Korpisalo from injured reserve, while Brendan Gaunce returned to lineup after a brief injury. As a result, Emil Bemstrom left the lineup while J-F Berube was assigned to the Cleveland Monsters.

Elvis Merzlikins got the start in net, playing his third game in four nights. Here’s what happened.

Scoring Recap

First Period

Seconds before faceoff, it was announced that Petr Mrazek, not Jack Campbell, would get the start for the Leafs. Campbell has struggled of late, and Toronto was looking for a spark. Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist generated a two on one just seconds in, but Nyquist missed the net, failing to test Mrazek. With 2:43 gone, Brendan Gaunce took a penalty for boarding and put the league’s best power play on the ice. The Leafs dominated puck possession, but the Jackets were able to kill the penalty and allowed only one shot.

The Leafs simply dominated the opening stretch of the game and on their 14th shot attempt of the game, they broke through Elvis Merzlikins. A bad defensive zone turnover led to a shot blocked down in front of Merzlikins that he had no shot to cover because Andrew Peeke was blocking his way. Ilya Mikheyev was able to put the rebound in the net. Nothing Elvis could do about that.

Toronto goal (0-1): Mikheyev from Engvall and Kampf, 8:06

Toronto, seconds after the game resumed, had a 2 on 0 but missed the net. With 9:43 to go, John Tavares gave the Columbus offense some life as he took a penalty for interference. As the power play started, the Leafs led in shot attempts 21-5. Toronto killed the power play with little fanfare.

With 5:59 to go, Mitchell Marner scored to make it 2-0 after another long defensive zone shift. The defensive zone coverage was scrambling and lost their coverage and Marner was able to bury a shot on the back post.

Toronto goal (0-2): Marner from Bunting and Liljegren, 14:01

With 2:54 to go, Auston Matthews capitalized on a turnover to score his 40th of the season and Toronto’s third of the night. Matthews was able to shake free of Kukan and score a wrap around to beat Elvis. Terrible, terrible play by Kukan to absolutely abandon one of the league’s best goal scorers and let him walk net-front.

Toronto goal (0-3): Matthews from Marner and Brodie, 17:06

After 20 minutes, the Leafs led 3-0 on the scoreboard and out-shot Columbus 13-5.

Second period

1:45 into the second period, Columbus was able to find the back of the net to get on the board. Max Domi let a shot go and Sean Kuraly was able to tip it past Mrazek to cut the lead to 3-1.

Columbus goal (1-3): Kuraly from Domi, 1:45

With just over six minutes remaining, Oliver Bjorkstrand beat Mrazek but his shot hit the post, keeping the deficit at two. It took the Blue Jackets a period to get going, but they found their legs early in the second.

With 12:25 to go in the second, Max Domi was hit up high by Justin Holl and Domi took exception, throwing down the gloves and taking Holl to the ice. Domi was certainly the most active Jacket for the first 30 minutes of the game.

With 9:10 to go, a big goal mouth scramble and several door stop saves from Elvis came to nothing as he was able to keep the Leafs out of the net. The Leafs began to regain momentum late in the period, outshooting Columbus 6-1 over a five minute stretch into the final TV timeout of the period.

With 2:16 to go, Boone Jenner was hit with a roughing penalty as he hit Travis Dermott high with an arm/stick to the face trying to go around the Leaf, but Dermott was tagged also with a penalty for interference as well. After much consternation, the penalties stood (though both were the right calls). The teams played two minutes of four on four and with 1:11 to go, Gustav Nyquist made an outstanding play to find Oliver Bjorkstrand and Bjorkstrand buried it for his 20th of the season.

Columbus goal (2-3): Bjorkstrand from Nyquist and Peeke, 18:49

After 40 minutes, Toronto led 3-2 and outshot Columbus 26-19.

Third Period

52 seconds into the third period, John Tavares took his second penalty of the game, this one for holding. Jack Roslovic, after an incredible play by Max Domi, beat Petr Mrazek to tie the game. Nyquist was able to occupy the defense and Domi’s incredible feed found Roslovic for his 10th of the night.

Columbus goal (3-3): Roslovic from Domi and Nyquist, 2:28

Toronto was able to regain the lead just minutes later though, as Alex Kerfoot capitalized on some defensive zone miscommunication. He was able to take advantage of vacated space and restore Toronto’s lead 1:51 later. Great shot by Kerfoot, but you’d like to see defensive coverage be better there.

Toronto goal (3-4): Kerfoot from Spezza and Simmonds, 4:19

The teams continued to trade chances through the middle part of the third period, but neither was able to break through until there were 8:39 remaining. Michael Bunting was able to beat Merzlikins to the post on a goal he should’ve had - Merzlikins failed to close off the post with his shoulder and Bunting got it past into the net.

Toronto goal (3-5): Bunting from Matthews and Brodie, 11:21

With 3:00 to go, Timothy Liljegren took a holding penalty on Jakub Voracek and gave Columbus a 6 on 4 and they pulled Elvis with 2:38 to go. With 47.7 to, seconds after the power play expired, Patrik Laine let fly with a shot as Gustav Nyquist cut across Mrazek and Laine’s shot beat Mrazek to cut the deficit to one.

Columbus goal (4-5): Laine from Werenski and Voracek, 19:12

The Jackets could not find the equalizer and fell to the Leafs.

Final

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 Columbus Blue Jackets 5

Final Thoughts

This was a tired team, but that does not excuse mental mistakes early. In the first nine minutes, Brendan Gaunce took a completely unnecessary boarding penalty and committed the egregiously bad turnover that led to Toronto’s first goal. Emil Bemstrom may not ever get a fair shake in Columbus, but he brings MUCH more to the team than whatever Brendan Gaunce is doing out on the ice. Gaunce should absolutely spend the next game in the press box, if at the very least only to showcase Bemstrom for trade value. Gaunce does not have a long term future here.

Shoutout to Rick Nash, interviewed at second intermission, for wearing his cool custom blue jacket that he was gifted at the retirement ceremony.

Stick taps for Oliver Bjorkstrand, joining Jenner and Laine with 20 goals on the season.

16 goals from Laine in his last 16.

With his assist on Laine’s goal, Zach Werenski passed Seth Jones for most points (224) by a Blue Jackets defenseman.

Max Domi was really active and energetic for the team, one of the few bright spots early in the game as the team was struggling to find their legs. He contributed to the team’s first goal, fought to bring some energy to the crowd, and generally was the most engaged player for much of the night. He had an incredible pass on Roslovic’s goal and was easily the best player on the ice for the Blue Jackets for most of the night.

The first period could not have possibly been worse for Columbus, but they were certainly able to rebound in the second period. Toronto is not exactly a goaltending powerhouse, but Columbus’ structure improved, their puck pressure increased greatly, and their feet were moving more consistently.

Elvis had a few unlucky goals go against him tonight, but he also did not make enough saves to give the offense a chance - the Jackets climbed back to tie the game at three and then Elvis allowed the next two goals, including one to Bunting that was absolutely atrocious as he failed to close off his post. Elvis has been put under a tremendous work load this season and can play better (especially with support from his defensemen), but he MUST find a way to stop giving up soft goals.

Up Next

The Columbus Blue Jackets head to the east coast to take on the New York Islanders on Thursday night. Faceoff is scheduled for 7:00 EDT.