Maple Leafs set off in search of identity after game opener loss to Blue Jackets

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TORONTO – If we bill the Toronto-Columbus playoff as a tug of war between two separate identities – and I believe we are – then the first 60 minutes was the Blue Jackets.

Even schematizing his plan and preparing a mindset to defeat the most talented offensive team, John Tortorella could not have crafted a better Game 1 than the one that took place at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday night.

Wearing their ‘over the puck’ mantra as a second badge on their jerseys, the Blue Jackets gave up on an odd run, committed only one minor penalty and patiently waited around a scoreless seesaw. until a costly Maple Leafs mistake is made. enough difference.

The Tortaterrific result: 2-0 Blue Jackets and the first shutout win in Columbus playoff history.

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“They did what they do best,” admitted Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe after the loss. “You can’t win if you don’t score. ”

“This is how we have to play,” said Jackets forward Cam Atkinson. “A bold and direct defensive style. ”

To that end, Tortorella’s first smart move was to pick the right starting goalie.

In his very first postseason game after four seasons in the shadow of Sergei Bobrovsky, Joonas Korpisalo dismissed the 28 shots he faced. Most important was a 10-bell stop on an Auston Matthews one-stopwatch, a rare luck of the Leafs slot machine.

“The save against Matthews is probably one of the best of the night,” said Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones. “He’s been doing his time behind Bob for years now, and now is his chance.”

Tortorella’s second wise choice was to introduce discipline to his troops.

Well aware that the Keefe Leafs want to feast on the man advantage, Columbus chose to win the special teams battle by avoiding it altogether.

Tortorella took note of the frequency of the whistles in the bubble on Saturday (the Rangers and Hurricanes combined for a stupid 42-minute penalty on their first outing, for example) and reinforced the need to stay off the beaten track.

“There have been a lot of penalties in these games here. We really put the emphasis on playing the right way – skate, keep our sticks down and just check the right way, ”said Tortorella.

“It’s a dangerous power game that we’re playing against. We cannot give them so many opportunities. ”

Within two minutes, the Leafs had a 5-on-4, recording just one shot.

The Maple Leafs’ main goal was to get better defensively, and they did, especially in the Tory first half of the case. But on Sunday, the regular defense came at the expense of what brought them into the postseason to start.

The most expensive forward body in the bubble couldn’t get through the layers of frustration Columbus was building up.

So after a close start, Keefe gave up his fourth row almost immediately. (Rental deadline Kyle Clifford skated the entire 3:21.) He missed his most dangerous weapon, Matthews, more than Mike Babcock ever did in a regulation playoff game (24:38). And he flashed his All-Star Game line.

And even? Nada.

It’s hard to win a track competition when the other guy doesn’t give you even a second to tie your shoes.

“They play playoff hockey. It’s playoff hockey, ”said Zach Hyman. “Not much there. It’s tight. ”

“We will learn from it.”

Each member of the Leafs’ top six forwards finished with a dash in the plus / minus column. Mitch Marner did not record a shot on the net.

The newly redesigned third unit, starring teenage sniper Nick Robertson, was designed to produce. Yet after Robertson’s A-grade luck on his first shift, they fell silent.

“It would be by far the toughest game he has ever played, I imagine,” Keefe said.

Credit Tortorella’s game plan, and the Jackets’ commitment to her, for drawing first blood into what might just be the series with the thinnest margins of error.

Tied to 0-0 as the third period approached, Columbus was at ease.

This season, the Jackets have 12 wins after two wins. They celebrated 20 wins in one goal. The two brands are the strongest in the NHL.

Just give them a window.

Ask Frederik Andersen, who has been fantastic all night but blundered in the third period. The goalie guessed high on a right wing Atkinson wringing machine that zipped across his mat and under his blocker.

“I closed my eyes,” Atkinson said. “I knew where I wanted to shoot. I didn’t really expect him to come in, but obviously one of those I’ll take.

After Alexander Wennberg hit the empty net, Keefe stood alongside Andersen.

“As far as I’m concerned, he did his job. He kept them for one purpose. We have to find a way to help him. ”

One day at training camp, we asked Keefe if he was ready for that chess match with Tortorella, and the ex-player assured him that he was.

Columbus overturned the first major coin and took a firm step toward planting his own identity throughout this best-of-five.

“We can’t lose sight of who we are as a team,” Keefe recalled in the pre-season. “We have to be really good offensively.”

Tuesday, the second game would be a good time to start.



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