Fighting Demons. Leafs vs Blue Jackets preview and prediction.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be looking to fight their demons of making it past the first round of the playoffs but first must beat a feisty Columbus Blue Jackets team in the play-in series.
Toronto Maple Leafs (8) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (9)
The Leafs are loaded with star power upfront with Matthews, Marner, Tavares, and Nylander all being on pace for 70 plus points this season if not for COVID ending the season early. The offense though is clearly lead by one person and that person is Auston Matthews. In just his 4th pro season he has already scored 158 goals, with only Alex Ovechkin having scored more goals than him over the last four years. Matthews continues to improve and transcend into the Maple Leaf history books. The weakness for the Leafs over the past couple of seasons is no secret, as every fan you talk to says they are "one right shot defenseman away from a Stanley Cup." This year though has been a bit different as the d-core finally may be catching up to the offense. Veteran additions in Muzzin and Barrie have started to settle in and some of the young D prospects have started to make a positive impact on the backend.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are by no means known for their offense with only 180 goals for this season which is the second-lowest of the 24 teams to make the playoffs. A hard checking feisty team, Columbus proved last year in their sweep of the Tampa Bay that their tight-checking defensive style of play is hard to handle even for the most skilled of teams. The losses of Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin in the offseason though might be too big, as all the pressure to create offense is now put on young first-line centerman Pierre-Luc Dubois and top d-pairing Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
The Difference Makers
Looking at a player from each team that will decide this series.
⭐ Frederik Andersen
With scoring being a consistent trademark of the current Leafs roster the biggest question mark going into this series is the play of their goalie. Andersen an above-average goalie throughout his NHL career, had his worst statistical season in 2019. Looking shaky at times during this season, the Leafs will need consistent play from Andersen if they are going to win this series (or turn to Jack Campbell if things get that bad).
⭐Whoever is in net.....Elvis Merzlikins or Joonas Korpisalo
The Blue Jackets formula to win is quite simple, grind out the other team to score a goal or two and don't let the other team score. This was shown last year in their upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning with a major impact coming from the elite play in net from Sergei Bobrovsky. Well now he is gone, but considering his play this year its probably for the better. Either way now one of their new young unproven goalies must step up to fill his role. Bobrovsky's back up from last year Korpisalo began the year as the starter and was playing very well before his knee injury in December. The Injury though allowed the unknown Merzlikins to step in the starting role and oh boy did Elvis ever prove he deserves every opportunity to be the Blue Jackets full time starting goalie. Now both healthy the Blue Jackets have two solid options to start in goal. Whoever does get the starting nod will have to stand on their head if they are going to have a chance in this series.
Prediction and Betting Picks
The Leafs come into this series as obvious favourites.
Playoff demons aside the Leafs current roster have them set up as a possible cup contender and clear favourites in this series. Columbus on the other hand is just looking to follow up last year's upset with another grinded-out series victory over a high octane offensive team. Hard-hitting and forechecking aside you need to score goals to win and With Duchene and Panarin leaving in the offseason I don't see how it will be possible for Columbus to keep up with the Leafs offense.
Prediction: Leafs in 3.........Look at Leafs in 3 prop at +430 if you are feeling extra confident.