Tell me if you’ve heard this one before; Leafs blow three goal lead, lose in overtime. Sound familiar? It should. Aside from timing, this was almost identical to that fateful night in Boston back in 2013 when Phil Kessel and the Leafs were within inches of the second round, but were quickly thrown back into reality thanks to a furious comeback by the Bruins.
Some things never change.
In what started off as an offensive explosion by Toronto, man-handling the Columbus Blue Jackets and chasing Joonas Korpisalo midway through the second period, quickly turned into a repeat of 2013 as Columbus tied the game with just under 10 minutes to play in the third and went on to win 4-3 in overtime.
In what was otherwise a solid game up and down the lineup, the Maple Leafs ended up with a familiar feeling at the end of the game; heartbreak.
1: Toronto Had No Answer for Dubois
This is where Jake Muzzin would’ve come in handy. Alongside Justin Holl, Muzzin had been matched up almost exclusively against the Dubois line, holding the Jackets’ up and coming centre in check in the first two games of this series.
The moment Muzzin leaves? It seems as though the Leafs defense collapsed in on itself. Each pairing saw a healthy dose of Dubois and none of them were able to find an answer.
Dubois took advantage of a fortunate bounce off a skate to pot his first goal, later capitalizing on a risky Travis Dermott pinch to bury his second and finally beating an out of position Morgan Rielly to secure heartbreak for Leaf fans everywhere.
While yes, some would argue that Dubois didn’t necessarily beat any of the Leaf defensemen cleanly and that all of his goals were based off of misfortune on Toronto’s part, none of Toronto’s defensemen were able to slow him down, and at the end of the day, Columbus exits Scotiabank Arena with a 2-1 series lead.
2: A Tale of Two Games
In the first half of this game, the Leafs looked like a carbon copy of themselves from Game 2. Finding clean zone entries, making crisp passes and capitalizing on opportunities had Toronto dominating through the entirety of the first period and the opening portion of the second.
The Leafs utilized their bottom six quite effectively, as the fourth line was sustaining pressure, the Kerfoot-Kapanen combination wreaking havoc in the Columbus zone and setting up the opening goal, as well as 18-year-old Nick Robertson finally finding the back of the net in his third NHL game.
However, as soon as Dubois found the back of the net to cut the Columbus deficit to two, the game flipped in the blink of an eye. Suddenly, the Blue Jackets were the ones sustaining pressure, forcing Frederik Andersen (who was sharp once again) to make a few spectacular stops. The biggest downfall for Toronto, however, were the untimely giveaways in the defensive zone.
Alex Kerfoot, who has otherwise been a force since the Leafs returned to action, threw the puck up the boards carelessly which then led to Seth Jones beating Andersen shortside. Kyle Clifford found himself on the wrong end of a couple giveaways which helped turn the tide for Columbus and newcomer Martin Marincin was shaky to say the least in the second half of the contest.
3: Overtime Felt A Lot Like Game 1
In a pivotal Game 3 matchup, the Leafs found themselves snakebitten in overtime which drew gut-wrenching comparisons to the entirety of Game 1. Elvis Merzlikins, who had come on in relief of Korpisalo, was razor sharp in overtime, turning away countless Leaf chances and withstanding heavy pressure.
It seemed as though the Leafs were going to narrowly avoid heartbreak with just about everyone on the roster having a grade A scoring chance in the overtime period. Most notably, Pierre Engvall and Ilya Mikheyev both had good looks from the slot, with both shots being partially blocked and deflecting harmlessly away from the net. Regardless, Merzlikins carried the hot hand, keeping Columbus alive and allowing them to take advantage of a poorly timed John Tavares shot.
Ultimately, the Leafs were snakebitten. But that’s no excuse to blow a three goal lead in the playoffs as Leaf fans are left with countless questions once again. Toronto won’t have much time to think about it as these two teams get going again on Friday at 8:00pmET.