To many, the Maple Leafs’ history of heartache — particularly recently — made squandering a 3-0 lead and losing 4-3 in OT to the Blue Jackets in Game 3 feel all too familiar.
When you consider the broader strokes, that’s true. When you zoom in, however, there are some key differences between these collapsing Maple Leafs and those collapsing Maple Leafs. Namely, Sheldon Keefe resides behind the bench as head coach for his first Maple Leafs playoff push.
So, how did Keefe react to the Maple Leafs’ collapsing from a 3-0 lead to lose Game 3 to the Blue Jackets 4-3 in OT? Keefe was quite frank about the Maple Leafs’ failures.
“We got what we deserved today,” Keefe said, via reporters including Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “We didn’t have any purpose or plan.”
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When a team coughs up a 3-0 lead, it’s fair to ponder a tug-o-war between the leading team falling apart (or playing too safe?) versus the rallying squad upping their game.
To be honest, it’s tough to shake at least some sense that the Maple Leafs took their feet off of the gas:
Leafs scoring chances by period:
— James Mirtle (@mirtle) August 7, 2020
Again, though, you cannot act as though Columbus was totally a passive passenger in this process. After all, John Tortorella certainly unleashed the hounds when the Blue Jackets needed to come back. There’s no sense trying to “bend-but-not-break” when you instead need to rush back into that Game 3.
With Jake Muzzin out, and on a team that’s already questioned for its defense, Keefe needs to think long and hard about the balance he wants to strike between safety and aggression.
Naturally, by criticizing a lack of “any plan,” people will question Keefe, head coach, aka the person most responsible for any plan. At minimum, Keefe will need to figure out a plan to slow down Pierre-Luc Dubois after his pivotal hat trick in Game 3.
Back-to-back turnaround could challenge Keefe’s planning abilities for Game 4
A quick turnaround presents another interesting wrinkle.
Going from a Thursday Game 3 to a Friday Game 4 brings some advantages. Even in a climate without fans, the Maple Leafs face heavy scrutiny, and nothing brings out the vultures like squandering a 3-0 lead. Rather than hearing tons of hot takes, a back-to-back turnaround may force the Maple Leafs to merely buckle down and try to keep their season alive.
Sometimes, in hockey, the team that seemingly “deserves” to win cannot overcome the bounces that are an essential part of the sport. We’ll see if the Maple Leafs get what they “deserve” in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets, but it’s up to Keefe to make sure they actually have a coherent plan.
Apparently that wasn’t the case in Game 3.
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ leads series 2-1)
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0 (recap)
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Maple Leafs 3, Blue Jackets 0 (recap)
Thursday, Aug. 6: Blue Jackets 4, Maple Leafs 3 [OT] (recap)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs (if necessary), TBD
• 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.