No. 9 Blue Jackets vs. No. 8 Maple Leafs
8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS, FS-O, NHL.TV
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs open a best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifier series at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Sunday.
Joonas Korpisalo will start for the Blue Jackets but coach John Tortorella declined to comment on the decision he earlier likened to “a coin toss” in terms of two strong goaltending options along with rookie Elvis Merzlikins.
Frederik Andersen will start for the Maple Leafs, who were 1-0-1 against the Blue Jackets before the season was paused March 12 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
Nicholas Robertson will make his NHL debut for Toronto. The 18-year-old forward led the Ontario Hockey League with 55 goals this season.
There hasn’t been a best-of-5 series in the NHL since 1986. The League used them for the preliminary round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1980-86, and the team that won Game 1 went on to win the series 87.5 percent of the time (49 of 56).
Here are 3 keys to Game 1:
1. Blue Jackets goaltending
Goaltending was one of the Blue Jackets’ primary strengths this season. Korpisalo was 19-12-5 with a 2.60 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and two shutouts in 37 games (35 starts). He allowed seven goals in two starts against the Maple Leafs (1-1-0, 3.44 GAA, .883 save percentage). Merzlikins, who had five shutouts in an eight-game span from Jan. 11 to Feb. 7, will be ready to step in if Korpisalo falters. He was 13-9-8 with a 2.35 GAA and .923 save percentage in 33 games (31 starts).
2. Maple Leafs need secondary scoring
The Maple Leafs were shut out once in 70 games and third in goals per game (3.39). Auston Matthews scored NHL career highs in goals (47), points (80) and power-play points (25). He’s scored 10 goals in 20 postseason games, including five in seven games last season. Production was concentrated at the top with two 60-point scorers, Mitchell Marner (67) and John Tavares (60), and William Nylander‘s NHL career-high 31 goals. Forwards Zach Hyman, Kasperi Kapanen and Alexander Kerfoot will need to chip in on offense. Robertson, who will play left wing on the third line with Kapanen and Kerfoot, is an interesting wild card and any production from him would provide a boost.
3. Strength vs. strength
Toronto’s potent offense and power play will be a huge test for the Blue Jackets’ defense. Though Columbus had numerous injuries throughout the regular season, Korpisalo, forwards Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Alexandre Texier, and defensemen Seth Jones, Dean Kukan and Ryan Murray are ready. The Blue Jackets will need all hands on deck in their bid for their second postseason series win.
Blue Jackets projected lineup
Nick Foligno — Pierre-Luc Dubois — Oliver Bjorkstrand
Gustav Nyquist — Boone Jenner — Cam Atkinson
Alexandre Texier — Alexander Wennberg — Emil Bemstrom
Eric Robinson — Riley Nash — Liam Foudy
Zach Werenski — Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov — David Savard
Ryan Murray — Dean Kukan
Scratched: Josh Anderson, Gabriel Carlsson, Adam Clendening, Nathan Gerbe, Scott Harrington, Matiss Kivlenieks, Stefan Matteau, Markus Nutivaara, Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund
Unfit to play: None
Maple Leafs projected lineup
William Nylander — Auston Matthews — Zach Hyman
Ilya Mikheyev — John Tavares — Mitchell Marner
Nicholas Robertson — Alexander Kerfoot — Kasperi Kapanen
Kyle Clifford — Pierre Engvall — Jason Spezza
Morgan Rielly — Cody Ceci
Jake Muzzin — Justin Holl
Travis Dermott — Tyson Barrie
Scratched: Frederik Gauthier, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Denis Malgin, Martin Marincin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin, Joseph Woll
Unfit to play: Andreas Johnsson, Timothy Liljegren