Sometimes, the easiest explanation fits best.
And it doesn’t get any easier than what coach John Tortorella put forth shortly after the Columbus Blue Jackets’ 3-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs went into the record books. When asked how his team could conceivably get the offense humming after getting shut out in the second game of the five-game Stanley Cup Qualifying series, he had no interest in any speeches or public diatribes. No plan to explore what went wrong.
At least, not with the media.
“I’m not going to break the game down at all,” John Tortorella said, disregarding the specifics of the first question he received at his virtual post-game press conference. “Toronto played a really good game. We sucked. I’m not interested. It doesn’t help our club right now to break it down with you guys.”
When someone posed a followup question, Tortorella doubled down on his original comments.
“Toronto was really good,” he said. “We sucked.”
Tortorella, two questions later, with someone else trying to get his thoughts on the loss: “Toronto was really good. We sucked.”
Gustav Nyquist had his own spin on it.
“They played a good game,” he said. “We've got to be way better than that. We weren't good enough.
Nick Foligno gave it a try, too.
“I just didn't think we had it tonight,” he said. “That's really the difference.”
All those answers were so broad. They lacked any specificity. Yet they also make complete sense.
Ultimately, what happened in Toronto's Scotiabank Arena was a fairly simply explained defeat.
From the jump, the Blue Jackets didn’t seem like the same team that beat the Maple Leafs, 2-0, on Sunday to grab a 1-0 series lead. They didn’t play with the same energy, skate with a similar vigor or control the game from a physicality standpoint. Toronto dictated how the game went, and Columbus was essentially in response mode for the duration of regulation. Despite a fiery personality on display during an interaction with Pierre-Luc Dubois that was caught on cameras, his team lacked energy.
While the Maple Leafs couldn’t find the back of the net until Auston Matthews put the puck there 16 minutes into the second period, they were past due for a goal. They had a 39-20 advantage of shots on goal throughout the game that started with six unanswered shots when the game began and remained steady for the duration.
“I mean, right from the start we just weren't playing well,” Nyquist said. “So we've got to be better.”
Offensively, the Blue Jackets were a complete trainwreck.
On Sunday, the one goal that came with a goalie in the net happened on a shot that Cam Atkinson didn’t think would go in. Columbus didn’t have luck on its side on Tuesday. Of the 20 shots on goal, only a few of them truly threatened goaltender Frederik Andersen, who pulled off the shutout.
“I think we can just do a better job of getting inside and just our compete level,” Foligno said. “I think that's really ultimately what creates scoring chances for our team. We didn't forecheck tonight, and that's the result we got tonight.”
Penalties didn’t help either. While the Blue Jackets only accrued two penalty minutes in Game 1, they had 12 in the second game of the series. That only increased the number of opportunities for Toronto’s high-powered offensive attack to find its footing.
The lone bright spot, once again, was goaltender Joonas Korpisalo.
The five-year NHL veteran in his second career playoff start allowed two goals – the third came in the game’s final minute during an empty-net situation – despite protecting the net from a barrage of shots. Even Korpisalo, a soft-spoken 26-year-old who intersperses everything he says with positive comments about his team, mentioned that there were “certainly more people in front (of the net) than the first game.”
Eventually, the offense has to take some of the pressure off of the goaltender.
“I just don't think we were as sharp tonight as we have been,” Foligno said. “I think that was the biggest difference. You can dissect it any way you want, but it ultimately just came down to we didn't play a very good game.”
That much was obvious both to everybody on the ice and watching around the globe. The more pressing question, and the question that can’t possibly be answered yet, is how the Blue Jackets respond.
Tortorella implored Columbus to come out of the gates quickly, which they did in Game 1. The team has a chance to take a commanding 2-0 lead on Tuesday but failed to do so.
Things can change quickly in a five-game series, as evidenced by the two games over the past three days. It’ll be up to the Blue Jackets to relocate what made them so dangerous on Sunday going forward.