Two weeks ago the NHL agreed to a format that organized each conference’s teams based on points percentage. The plan calls for four top seeds and then includes a play-in round contested between seeds 5-12 in each conference. The top four seeded teams in the West and the top four in the East will be given byes but will play each other before the playoffs.
This proposed plan calls for a first-round, play-in series with the Toronto Maple Leafs facing the Columbus Blue Jackets. In this post, I want to offer three reasons why I believe the Maple Leafs will beat the Blue Jackets.
However, Hockey’s Hockey and Anything Can Happen
Because hockey’s hockey there will always be upsets. And, obviously, the Blue Jackets know this well. Last season, their head coach John Tortorella led them to one of the biggest upsets in recent Stanley Cup playoffs when his team derailed the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning from the playoffs.
Although the Maple Leafs have the best goalie between these two teams with Frederik Andersen having been named to the NHL All-Start game this past season, in a short playoff series a goalie can get hot. And, during this crazy season, I simply expect more crazy to ensue.
Certainly, the Blue Jackets’ goalie tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins were great during the regular season. They rotated starts; however, will they continue to rotate during the postseason? That seldom happens. So, which goalie would Tortorella go to?
If Things Happen As They Should
All this said, if things happen as they should, any conversations about goalies are meaningless. The Blue Jackets as a team simply don’t have the same skills the Maple Leafs can ice. Toronto might also be the best team playing in the play-in round. Certainly, they have the offensive firepower to tear apart even a respectable defense like the Blue Jackets.
Both the Maple Leafs and the Blue Jackets finished the regular season with the same point total (81 in 70 games), but that means less than it seems on the surface for two reasons. Reason one, on November 21 the Maple Leafs hired a new head coach and Sheldon Keefe has made a difference. Since that date, the Maple Leafs played a different game than it played when they were led by former head coach Mike Babcock. Since Keefe stood behind the bench, the Maple Leafs had the eighth-best record in the NHL.
Reason two, the Maple Leafs sustained some of the worst injuries bad luck of any NHL team. Now, with the exception of Andreas Johnsson, the Maple Leafs are completely healed. All their skaters combined, the talent level is at least a notch higher than the Blue Jackets.
Why the Edge Goes to the Maple Leafs
There are three reasons the Maple Leafs will win this five-game series:
Reason #1: The Maple Leafs core of fantastic NHL players includes Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander, Masterton Trophy nominee Zach Hyman, and Morgan Rielly.
Reason #2: In Andersen, the Maple Leafs have the better goalie than anyone the Blue Jackets can stick between the pipes.
Reason #3: The Maple Leafs are healthy. The team starts the playoffs without injury – except for Johnsson. The team will be the healthiest they’ve been during the entire season.
One thing I didn’t mention was that the Maple Leafs have something to prove. They are – or I believe they should be – ready to engage Boston Bruins one more time. The team barely lost last season, and I think they are better this season.
Although the final workings of the playoffs remain have not been finalized, there’s a possibility that the play-in winners may eventually meet the Bruins. Maple Leafs fans would be looking forward to that playoff series. I have to believe the team is eager to have another crack at the Bruins.
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