UPDATE - The Leafs have activated forward Andreas Johnsson from injured reserve. This makes him eligible to play tonight in Game 5, but Johnsson was not scheduled to return until September.
If you expected anything different then a topsy-turvy, roller coaster, heart attack inducing drama from the Toronto Maple Leafs, then you clearly didn’t watch them for 70 regular-season games. The question after their improbable rally to force Game 5 of their best-of-five series with the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena on Sunday is which Leafs club will show up?
Columbus has pretty much lived up to what was advertised, playing a tactical, patient, close checking, physical game and waiting for Toronto’s mistakes to create opportunities, and there is no reason to believe we will see anything different in Game 5.
As for Toronto, will we see the club that shut out the Jackets and allowed only 20 shots on goal in Game 2, took what looked to be an insurmountable 3-0 lead in Game 3, and rallied to stay alive in the final minutes of Game 4 or will it be the club that was frustrated by the Blue Jackets defense and shut out by Joonas Korpisalo in Game 1, and allowed the offensively challenged Blue Jackets to comeback and win Game 3 in overtime and score seven straight goals in the last two games.
"What we've come to expect is that each game despite (having) some similarities, they really have their own personalities and the key for us of course is the ride the momentum into the next game, but recognize that it's a fresh scoreboard." Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said on Saturday. "Even the times when we haven't liked our team game or (the) structure hasn't been what I expect, I think we've had some individual performances that have been really good and not always showing up on the scoresheet. It's generally been a pretty low scoring series, but just the effort and the commitment that we're seeing from some guys that are at a higher level than what we've seen from them before and that's what we've been asking for."
The Leafs are expected to go with the same lineup for Game 5, but may shake up their forward combos and defensive pairings that did not work in Game 4. Other than the consistent effort they received from the fourth line of Kyle Clifford, Pierre Engvall and Jason Spezza, Keefe was forced to mix up his lines to find something that would work, including using John Tavares, Auston Matthew and Mitch Marner together when they were in desperation mode, and did the same thing late in the game with the blueline, double shifting Morgan Rielly and going primarily with five defensemen in the third period and overtime.
Columbus has a number of questions going into Game 5 that will probably go unanswered until game time. John Tortorella may opt to go back to the more experienced Korpisalo in goal, but could stick with Merzlikins after allowing three goals in the last four minutes of regulation on Friday.
The availability of Ryan Murray (scratched in favor of Scott Harrington for Game 4) and Zach Werenski (who missed the last nine minutes of regulation and all of overtime) could have an effect on Tortorella being able to play the type of shutdown hockey that Columbus has to play to win.
The winner will play Tampa Bay beginning next week after the Lightning lost the top seed in the Eastern Conference to Philadelphia on Saturday.
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