Game 2 winners and losers: Morgan Rielly hosts elite playoffs

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The Toronto Maple Leafs have scored a goal! They won a match! The clouds have parted from GTA and anything is possible now. Let’s go back to Toronto’s 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 2 of their best-of-five series.

When it comes to evaluating the winners and losers of each game, it’s pretty much arbitrary on my part. I’m going to incorporate a few stats and stories that are relevant to the series, but they’re mostly based on how I felt during the game. Let’s go, okay?

Winners

Auston Matthews

The man of the hour, the one who broke the goose egg, after five grueling periods against the Blue Jackets, it was of course Auston Matthews who took the Leafs off the line. That goal was several scoring opportunities in the making, Matthews and Tavares’ lines were absolutely relentless throughout the game and Matthews was the first to be awarded after tipping in Zach Hyman’s pass for him.

It wasn’t a particularly creative lens or one that required something special to enter. It was the result of volume. At some point, the puck would surely find a speed, direction and angle that beat Joonas Korpisalo. While for much of the second period, Leafs fans were disheartened to believe that Korpisalo was going to make a second shutout – I think Arvind even described Korpisalo as having horseshoes up his ass on the latest B2E podcast. – eventually something was going to happen and it just happened to be this shot.

John Tavares

The numbers say it all for Mr. T. Captain John? John Blue? MT

At 5 against 5, five shots, seven shooting attempts, six chances to score, 0.51 goals expected. All at the top of the rankings for the Leafs (both teams, in fact).

In all situations, JT put in eight shots on goal and scored an expected goal of 1.21, a performance he has only matched once this season in a game against the Flyers in early December where he also found 0.7 expected goal on the power play. Compared to playoff performances, it wasn’t even Tavares best performance in a Leaf uniform. He generated 1.32 expected goals in the first game against the Bruins last year on six shots. He scored once in the 4-1 victory.

It was nerve-wracking watching Tavares during the game as we all knew in our hearts that he deserved a game and it would be a total tragedy if he wasn’t rewarded for his incredible efforts all afternoon. So glad to have achieved the goal, he was determined to achieve it somehow. Did anyone else have their jaw dropped when they realized there was no one in front of Tavares except the guard? I was not expecting it at all.

Morgan Rielly

The Leafs would not have won this game without the efforts of Morgan Rielly on several occasions. Of the players who did absolutely everything right with a preschool support cast around him, Rielly was top of the list for both teams.

He dragged the second power play unit into the attacking zone and was even found behind the net on several occasions trying to create an attack while the top unit was on the bench at rest. He was a lot more active in the defensive zone than in the first game, which says a lot. He was tough with the puck, diving to make plays in front and behind Frederik Andersen. And then he scored the goal in an empty net to seal it! Rielly truly deserves all the credit you can give her and more.

By the numbers, Rielly led the Leafs in 5v5 minutes (15:52) and every minute (24:37), with 61% shooting share, 62% expected goals and 67% scoring chances when he was on the ice. Including the Montreal game, Rielly has scored two goals and four points in his last three games.

Throughout the game you got to see the effort Rielly was putting into his shifts and everything he was trying to keep the pressure on the Blue Jackets and give the Leafs a good chance. It was heartbreaking to see him in the second power play unit because with all due respect Jason Spezza and Nick Robertson he deserves to be in the top unit. I’m not sure if this is politics or that we’ll find that Barrie is completely useless if he’s not in the upper unit, but Rielly earned this role on merit.

In short, when the Leafs are sent off full-fledged, Morgan Rielly is probably their best defenseman.

Frederik Andersen

You’ve got the shutout! What more can be said? He had a job and he did it perfectly. Four high danger shots, 10 medium danger shots and six low danger shots, all recorded.

Losers

Nick Foligno

Two penalties and the worst Corsi of the game (28%) is not what you would expect from the Blue Jackets’ defense captain. Foligno had a terrible night. The only player with expected goals worse than 17% was his teammate Alexander Wennberg who sports an impressive 8%. Big “L” for Foligno, who I think was the Blue Jackets in this game; overwhelmed and easily exposed when they had to push.

The Leafs’ power play

The power play has been 0/5 in this game, and while Tavares and Nylander have really led the way with some great odds, they still have to find a way to break through. Lower the washer and stop pissing with blows on the edges. Tavares can do it, Nylander can do it, Matthews can do it. Bring them the puck and see if clever chaos reigns. Oh, and don’t let Tyson Barrie shoot. Or just put Rielly back there. Please.

Mike Milbury

While Don Cherry has finally left town, Mike Milbury currently holds the NHL’s Biggest Loser Trophy. Congratulations.

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