The Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the qualifying round, and in doing so, dramatically improved their chances of advancing to the next round.
There's still work to do, yes, but the win puts them in a hugely advantageous position. NHL teams that win Game 1 in a best-to-five series go on to win the series nearly 90% of the time.
Note from the NHL: "There hasn't been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56)."— Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt) August 3, 2020
The pressure in this series was already squarely on the Maple Leafs, who are trying to get out of the first round of the playoffs since 2004. A star-studded cast of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and Wiliam Nylander cost half of the salary cap ($40.5M) and, fairly or not, are often scapegoated for their inability to get this team out of the first round. Frederik Andersen's postseason play has been questioned by Toronto media for years. The hockey-mad city of Toronto has high expectations for its beloved team.
On the other hand, the Blue Jackets lost marquee UFAs, led the NHL in man-games lost to injuries, and went into a season with two question marks in goal. To even be in the qualifying round is a testament to John Tortorella and the entire organization. That pressure just got ramped up even more by winning a game in which the Blue Jackets didn't create a ton of chances.
Game 1 was a best-case scenario for the Blue Jackets. Tortorella coached a perfect game, made more impressive by the fact that his game plan caught exactly zero people by surprise. Because of the win, the Blue Jackets have put themselves in a strong position. Still, the players know that the series is far from over. All eyes - and pressure - will be on the Maple Leafs to see how they respond.
Game 2 of the best-of-five series is set for 4 p.m. on Tuesday.