3 Keys: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, Game 5 of Cup Qualifiers


No. 9 Blue Jackets vs. No. 8 Maple Leafs

8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS, FS-O

Best-of-5 series is tied, 2-2

The Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs will battle for a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when play Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city, on Sunday.

The winner will play either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference First Round in Toronto. The loser will have a 12.5 percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery on Monday.

The Blue Jackets will be looking to bounce back following a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4 in which they led 3-0 with less than four minutes remaining in regulation. However, they could be without defenseman Zach Werenski, who left midway through the third period on Friday.

“I’m looking forward to making a good memory tomorrow,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “That’s my job and that’s our team’s job, is to forget this one and get ready for a huge one. So we can’t live in the past. It’s all about how we respond in the moments coming up to this game tomorrow. And I think we’re really excited about that challenge and having the conversation flipped here.”

The Maple Leafs are looking to win an NHL postseason series for the first time since 2004, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

“It was kind of hard to sleep because of the adrenaline (following Toronto’s win in Game 4),” Maple Leafs forward Mitchell Marner said.

Here are 3 keys to Game 5:


1. Top players need to step up

Each team will need its top players to rise to the occasion in order to advance. Toronto will be relying on forwards Auston Matthews, who scored the game-winning overtime goal in Game 4 and leads the Maple Leafs with six points (two goals, four assists), Marner (four assists), William Nylander (two goals, two assists) and John Tavares (two goals, one assist)

Columbus will look to forwards Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has four points in the past two games, including the first hat trick in Blue Jackets playoff history in Game 3, and Cam Atkinson, who leads Columbus with five points (two goals, three assists).


2. Blue Jackets goaltending

Who will get the start for Columbus? Elvis Merzlikins made 49 saves in his NHL postseason debut in Game 4 despite the loss. The rookie got the start after replacing Joonas Korpisalo in Game 3, when he stopped all 21 shots he faced to help the Blue Jackets rally from three goals down for a 4-3 overtime victory.

Korpisalo had a 28-save shutout in his first NHL postseason game in Game 1, a 2-0 win. He also played well in a 3-0 loss in Game 2, stopping 36 of 38 shots, but he struggled a bit in Game 3, allowing three goals on 15 shots before being pulled in favor of Merzlikins.

“I think our goaltenders have been great,” Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said. “And I’ve said it from the beginning of the series and coming into this qualification round, that it’s a strength of ours to have two goalies that can compete against each other internally and always want to be No. 1. So I think it’s a great situation for us and both have shown here that they’re capable of carrying that responsibility.”


3. Toronto’s depth

The Maple Leafs have relied heavily on their top-six forwards for offense thus far in the series, but their fourth line stepped up as well Game 4. Jason Spezza‘s fight with Blue Jackets defenseman Dean Kukan in the second period brought some much-needed energy to the bench, and linemates Kyle Clifford and Pierre Engvall played some key minutes down the stretch.

“He and his line were tremendous for us,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said. “We were using basically six guys with the goalie out, and then we were using Spezza’s line, our fourth line, that’s what we were using in the final 4:00 of the game. So it speaks to how they were competing and the impact they were making on the game yesterday.”


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Alexandre Texier — Pierre-Luc Dubois — Cam Atkinson

Nick Foligno — Boone JennerGustav Nyquist

Liam FoudyRiley NashOliver Bjorkstrand

Eric RobinsonAlexander WennbergNathan Gerbe

Zach Werenski — Seth Jones 

Vladislav GavrikovDavid Savard

Scott Harrington — Dean Kukan

Elvis Merzlikins

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: Emil Bemstrom, Gabriel Carlsson, Adam Clendening, Matiss Kivlenieks, Stefan Matteau, Ryan Murray, Markus Nutivaara, Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund

Unfit to play: Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky


Maple Leafs projected lineup

Zach Hyman — Auston Matthews — Mitchell Marner

Nicholas Robertson — John Tavares — William Nylander

Ilya MikheyevKasperi KapanenAlexander Kerfoot

Kyle Clifford — Pierre Engvall — Jason Spezza

Morgan RiellyCody Ceci

Martin MarincinJustin Holl

Travis DermottTyson Barrie

Frederik Andersen

Jack Campbell

Scratched: Frederik Gauthier, Kasimir Kaskisuo, Timothy Liljegren, Denis Malgin, Nic Petan, Calle Rosen, Rasmus Sandin, Joseph Woll

Unfit to play: Jake Muzzin, Andreas Johnsson


Status report

Neither team practiced Saturday. … Kekalainen had no update on Werenski or Murray, who did not dress for Game 4. “Well I guess we’ll always be optimistic, but I can’t answer that further.”

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