John Tortorella didn't want the magic of Thursday night to come and go quite so quickly.
In a perfect world, he said, Columbus Blue Jackets fans would have been in the building to see their team come back from a 3-0 second-period deficit to pull off a 4-3 overtime victory. But the inability to watch the game inside Scotiabank Arena didn't prevent them from feeling the joy of the win. By topping the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus suddenly has a 2-1 edge in the five-game Stanley Cup Qualifying series.
|CBJ 2, TOR 1 • QUALIFIER SERIES|
|TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS|
36–25–9 // 81 points
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
8 P.M. – FRIDAY, AUGUST 7
FOX SPORTS OHIO, NBCSN
FOX SPORTS GO
"I want them to enjoy themselves right now in the proper way," Tortorella said after Thursday's win. "I trust them. They’ll be ready to go tomorrow."
Friday evening, the puck once again drops at 8 p.m., and this time the Blue Jackets will be playing the clinch the series and the Maple Leafs will be on the ice attempting to hold onto their postseason life. They're one game away from elimination.
For a Columbus team that has struggled for two decades, a victory would mean a great deal. Last year the Blue Jackets beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs represented the first time in franchise history that they won a postseason series. On Friday, they can make it two years in a row.
In order to carry what it did on Thursday into Friday, Columbus both needs to continue to create scoring chances at a rate it was unable to in the first two games of the series. Pierre-Luc Duboic, whose hat trick gave the Blue Jacket the win in Game 3, should carry some of the load.
|1||SUN, AUG. 2, 2020||CBJ 2, TOR 0 // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|2||TUE, AUG. 4, 2020||TOR 3, CBJ 0 // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|3||THU, AUG. 6, 2020||COL 4, TOR 3 (OT) // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|4||FRI, AUG. 7, 2020||TBD|
|5 (IF REQUIRED)||SUN, AUG. 9, 2020||TBD|
"I just think that with Luc, if he wants to be a difference-maker, a game-changer, one of the best players I think in the league, he has all the capabilities, all the tools," Atkinson said on Thursday. "Tonight he showed it. It’s not always going to go your way. It’s those moments where you capitalize on those opportunities. Big-time players step up in big-time crucial situations and sure enough, a hat trick, put us all on his back. It was good to see."
Friday night will feature plenty of "big-time crucial situations," as Atkinson termed them. Dubois will again be counted on to spark the offense, which will need to remain as physical and opportunistic as it was late in Game 3.
Defensively, Columbus pulled it together in the third period and in overtime on Thursday, too, versus one of the most skilled scoring attacks in the NHL. Given the team's inconsistency, the Blue Jackets have to be as stout as can be on that side of the ice, too, regardless of whether Joonas Korpisalo or Elvis Merzlikins is the goaltender.
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
|42||ALEXANDRE TEXIER||18||PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS||28||OLIVER BJORKSTRAND|
|14||GUSTAV NYQUIST||10||ALEXANDER WENNBERG||13||CAM ATKINSON|
|71||NICK FOLIGNO||38||BOONE JENNER||19||LIAM FOUDY|
|50||ERIC ROBINSON||20||RILEY NASH||52||EMIL BEMSTROM|
|8||ZACH WERENSKI||3||SETH JONES|
|44||VLADISLAV GAVRIKOV||58||DAVID SAVARD|
|27||RYAN MURRAY||14||DEAN KUKAN|
|70||JOONAS KORPISALO||90||ELVIS MERZLIKINS|
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
|88||WILLIAM NYLANDER||34||AUSTON MATTHEWS||11||ZACH HYMAN|
|65||ILYA MIKHEYEV||91||JOHN TAVARES||16||MITCH MARNER|
|89||NICHOLAS ROBERTSON||15||ALEXANDER KERFOOT||24||KASPERI KAPANEN|
|73||KYLE CLIFFORD||33||FREDERIK GAUTHIER||19||JASON SPEZZA|
|8||JAKE MUZZIN||3||JUSTIN HOLL|
|44||MORGAN RIELLY||83||CODY CECI|
|23||TRAVIS DERMOTT||94||TYSON BARRIE|
|31||FREDERIK ANDERSEN||36||JACK CAMPBELL|
- Starting goalie?: After the second game of the series, few would have guessed that on Friday morning this discussion would pop up. Tortorella, however, predicted it by saying last week that he thought both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins would be needed for the Blue Jackets to advance past the Stanley Cup Qualifying series. As it turns out, he was right, with Merzlikins entering midway through Game 3 and holding Toronto scoreless. So, who's in front of the net when Game 4 begins? Because of the way Merzlikins played to clinch Thursday's victory, he might have an edge. But Korpisalo shouldn't ruled out by any means considering he secured a Game 1 shutout and kept the Blue Jackets in Game 2 amid the Blue Jackets' offensive onslaught. It's not exactly an easy decision.
- Maintaining momentum: Part of the reason Thursday night's game mattered so much, especially when it went to overtime, was that the teams have less than 24 hours between Dubois' game-winning goal and the puck dropping on Friday night. Three players – Seth Jones (32:40), Zach Werenski (31:18) and Cam Atkinson (30:09) – were on the ice for at least 30 minutes in Game 3. To invest so much into a game that goes to overtime after a mighty comeback only to lose would have been demoralizing. Now, after the win, all of the momentum sits with Columbus. It's up to the Blue Jackets to capitalize.
- Finish them: It comes down to this. One game stands between Columbus and advancing past the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The Blue Jackets just need to win one of the next two games – either on Friday or Sunday. Given how Thursday's game went, it would be apt for Columbus to come out firing on Friday and wrap the series up. Following nearly two decades of inability to reach the postseason and failures once they get to the playoffs, the Blue Jackets can win a round in back-to-back postseasons for the first time in franchise history.