Blue Jackets stun Maple Leafs with Game 1 shutout
After three straight opening round postseason exits there is no team under more immense pressure to advance through the qualifying round than the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Their current core has yet to break through in the playoffs, they play under the most intense media microscope in the league, and they were already dealing with the criticism that was coming from a sub-par regular season performance before the season was paused.
They need to win, and they need to win now.
So getting shutout and losing 2-0 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their qualifying round series on Sunday night was probably not the start they were looking for.
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Cam Atkinson and Alex Wennberg scored the only goals for Columbus, while Joonas Korpisalo stopped all 28 shots he faced for his first career postseason shutout.
This is not going to be well received in Toronto
For most teams this situation would not be anything to panic about. It is one game and even in a shortened series there is still time to turn things around, get back on track, and salvage the series. But given the way the regular season went and the fact this core is still looking for its first postseason series win and there is going to be no grace period here. No benefit of the doubt. No patience.
It is not just the fact they dropped the first game of the series, but the team they dropped it to.
Toronto and Columbus could not be at two more opposite ends of the NHL postseason spectrum even though their spot in the standings was virtually identical.
The Maple Leafs are the team loaded with superstars and the team that has had championship expectations. The goal is to simply not just make the playoffs, but to make the playoffs and win the whole thing.
To this point, fairly or unfairly, they are viewed as underachievers, especially after spending most of the 2019-20 regular season either out of the playoffs or teetering on the bubble.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are a team that entered this season with zero expectations and have done nothing but overachieve all year.
Their roster was gutted over the summer in free agency, they were picked by most to finish near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and perhaps even the entire league, and once the season did start they were absolutely ravaged by injuries all year to some of their best players.
Despite all of that being stacked against them they still exceeded all expectations and found themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Even with all of their flaws they still had a strong core thanks to defenseman Seth Jones and Zach Werenski and a couple of criminally underrated forwards in Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois. The wild card was always going to be how their goaltending duo of Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins performed. They excelled, and on Sunday Korpisalo played one of his best games of the season.
A year ago the Blue Jackets shocked the hockey world by sweeping the 62-win Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
Now they are one game closer to really sending the NHL world into chaos if they can upset the Maple Leafs.