Frederik Andersen

Korpisalo, Blue Jackets rebound to knock out Maple Leafs in Game 5

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Zach Werenski and Liam Foudy provided the goals and Joonas Korpisalo stopped 33 shots as the Blue Jackets eliminated the Maple Leafs with a 3-0 win in Game 5.

Columbus will face the Lightning in First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second straight year.

There was a question heading into Game 5 whether Werenski would be able to play. He didn’t play a shift after the middle of the third period in Game 4. His absence would have left a big hole on the Blue Jackets’ blue line.

But Werenski suited up and played 22:44 and made an impact. His biggest contribution came when he opened the scoring via a wrist shot from the point 6:29 into the game.

From there, the Maple Leafs pressed and pressed and pressed. Hoping to keep the pressure on, Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe reunited his “superstar” line of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares at times. But as the game wore on and Korpisalo kept stopping every shot, the trio were broken up in hopes of spreading out the attack.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It didn’t matter. Korpisalo didn’t budge and rebounded after being pulled 29 minutes into Game 4. He finished the series with a .967 even strength save percentage.

While the Blue Jackets netminder kept doing his job, Columbus seemed happy to sit back and defend in the third period, hoping to take advantage of an opportunity. That’s where Foudy came in.

The rookie forward took control of the puck deep in the Toronto zone as the Maple Leafs went for a line change. Martin Marincin was stuck one-on-one with Foudy, and the 20-year-old wired a low shot by Frederik Andersen to clinch the series.

Of course, after the wild ending to Game 5, a 2-0 third period lead didn’t mean security for the Blue Jackets. But they stayed strong defensively and Nick Foligno put the final nail in with an empty netter with 22.8 seconds to go.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets (CBJ wins series 3-2)

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 4, Blue Jackets 3 (OT) (recap)
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets 2, Maple Leafs 0

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pierre-Luc Dubois powers Blue Jackets to stunning Game 3 OT win vs. Maple Leafs

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Remember when people didn’t think Pierre-Luc Dubois deserved to go third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft? Now PLD will be associated with three for different reasons.

In Game 3, the Maple Leafs once held a 3-0 lead against the Blue Jackets. Columbus then waged a comeback, forcing Game 3 to OT. Ultimately, Pierre Luc-Dubois scored the overtime game-winner, giving him an astounding hat trick. This zany 4-3 OT comeback gives the Blue Jackets a 2-1 series lead, pushing the Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Pierre-Luc Dubois scored the Blue Jackets’ first postseason hat trick in about as beautiful and memorable fashion as you can ask.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Maple Leafs build 3-0 lead in Game 3, one that won’t last vs. Blue Jackets

Early on, it looked like the story of Game 3 would be the Maple Leafs breaking through against the Blue Jackets.

A fluke Cody Ceci goal helped Toronto take a 1-0 lead after a fairly even first period. The Maple Leafs then rode a William Nylander power-play goal and Nick Robertson’s first playoff tally to suddenly take a 3-0 lead. That Robertson goal was enough to convince John Tortorella to replace Joonas Korpisalo with Elvis Merzlikins.

When Pierre-Luc Dubois scored a power-play goal to decrease Toronto’s lead to 3-1, it seemed innocent enough. But Maple Leafs fans are pretty familiar with that misleading feeling.

Blue Jackets stun Maple Leafs in third period, and OT, thanks to Pierre-Luc Dubois

In continuing the Blue Jackets’ comeback, Seth Jones also redeemed the Ceci goal, which bounced off of him and past Korpisalo.

Less than four minutes after that Jones goal, Pierre Luc-Dubois scored his second goal of Game 3. He even threw in a modified Michael Jordan tongue wag for good measure.

You can imagine that Hockey Twitter enjoyed a field day with the Maple Leafs’ collapse. For those who grew tired of “It was 3-1,” Game 3 of Maple Leafs – Blue Jackets provided “It was 3-0.”

For much of Game 3, the Maple Leafs were moving the puck and gaining space in ways they hadn’t enjoyed against the Blue Jackets. You had to squint to notice Jake Muzzin‘s absence. That fledgling Maple Leafs defense fell apart in attempting to protect the lead.

To their credit, the Maple Leafs shook off the shock once they reached overtime. Toronto traded blows with Columbus, with Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, and Auston Matthews among those coming close to winning it. Ultimately, Elvis Merzlikins came through in relief.

To add another wrinkle, the two teams just slogged it out in overtime and must immediately turn around for Game 4 on Friday. For better or worse, the Maple Leafs need to put this stunning Game 3 loss to the Blue Jackets behind them very quickly. And they might want to find some answers against Pierre-Luc Dubois, too.

(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)
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs (if necessary), TBD

MORE:
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs: 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifier Preview

The NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers kick off the Return to Play plan on August 1. This week, PHT will be previewing each series with a look at storylines and end with our predictions for the eight matchups. In this case, it’s Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs.

(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets: TV schedule, start times, channels

Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD
Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD

Blue Jackets – Maple Leafs preview: Top storylines for Stanley Cup Qualifiers series

Will “underdog” theme work as well for Columbus as you’d expect?

John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets memorably swept a historically good Lightning team in the First Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky gone, Torts’ group once again slips into the underdog role against the expensive, star-studded Maple Leafs.

While the Maple Leafs stumbled in ways the 2018-19 Lightning rarely did, the styles, on paper, would behoove Columbus once again.

How many times have we seen a defensive-minded underdog clamp down on a high-powered favorite, at least in the NHL? It’s a theme of the sport, and sometimes a polarizing one.

From a sheer pressure standpoint, one could picture a still-fairly-young Maple Leafs team “start to grip their sticks a little tight” if they struggle to break through against the Blue Jackets. The media won’t be kind to Toronto if they fall short during this best-of-five series against Columbus.

That said … there aren’t fans there to trot out Bronx Cheers. If there’s anything to the feeling that nervousness can build among fans, that might not be much of an issue.

Could that soothe some of the anxiousness? Or will that lack of nervous energy make it that much tougher to create offense versus a potentially smothering Blue Jackets system?

Blue Jackets Maple Leafs 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers preview John Tortorella
(Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)

Can the Maple Leafs play adequate, NHL playoff-level defense?

One other thing that short-circuits some “underdog” talk is just how much the Maple Leafs struggle in certain areas of the game. Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe acknowledged the elephant in the room a few weeks ago.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that we got to be a lot better defensively,” Keefe said in mid-July, via TSN. “There’s no area of our game defensively that we were satisfied with. We’re not kidding ourselves here. We know there’s a lot of areas we need to look at and frankly it’s every area. From all three zones, everything that we’re doing there, we’re either tweaking it and making changes structurally to how we were playing or we’re having more focused intensity and commitment to the habits and detail within it.”

This could very well be a battle of strength vs. strength (Maple Leafs’ offense vs. Blue Jackets’ defense) and weakness vs. weakness (the two teams’ other units). If that holds true, then it could be a wash.

Either way, it sure seems like Morgan Rielly will be a busy man for … as long as the Maple Leafs can go.

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Maybe Andersen needed a break …

When a team allows too many goals, you encounter a chicken-and-the-egg question. How much should you blame a goalie giving up soft goals versus a defense hanging that netminder out to dry?

During most of his time with the Maple Leafs, Frederik Andersen bailed out his teammates time and time again. In 2019-20, however, that chicken-and-the-egg situation’s been a bit more rotten for all involved.

Andersen managed a mediocre .901 save percentage over his last 31 games of 2019-20, and was only slightly better overall (.909 over 52 contests). Just about every modern goalie deals with hot and cold streaks, but the Maple Leafs need at least above-average netminding to make everything fit together.

Perhaps fatigue was an issue for Andersen, though?

Since 2016-17, Andersen sits tied with the most games played in the entire NHL (244, with Connor Hellebuyck). Considering how adventurous those Maple Leafs games can be,* one cannot blame Andersen if he was tuckered out.

* – Andersen leads all goalies with 7,798 shots faced since 2016-17. Only two other goalies (Hellebuyck and Sergei Bobrovsky) faced at least 7,000 shots in that same window.

Will the Blue Jackets’ goalies handle playoff-style pressure — and the Maple Leafs’ attack?

To the delight of all pun-loving hound dogs, Elvis Merzlikins delivered beyond our wildest expectations with a chart-topping .923 save percentage. Considering that he played in 33 games, Merzlikins might deserve a little more Calder Trophy attention.

After years of disappointing play, Joonas Korpisalo played OK in a heightened role, too.

Theoretically, Tortorella’s smothering system could make life easier for these young goalies.

That said, these are two inexperienced netminders at playoff-level hockey. And, for all of their warts, the Maple Leafs can give defenses and goalies fits. Even the best of the best.

One would think that the Blue Jackets will need excellent goaltending to upset the Maple Leafs. It’s anyone’s guess if that part will work out for Columbus.

Who’s out, Who might return for Blue Jackets, Maple Leafs?

Blue Jackets: It’s unclear if Josh Anderson will be available for Columbus. Considering their need for some firepower, a reasonably healthy Anderson would be a nice boost. Brandon Dubinsky‘s long-term future seems murky, but he’s definitely unavailable for 2019-20.

Maple Leafs: Both Andreas Johnsson and Timothy Liljegren have been banged up, earning the “unfit to play” moniker. We’ll have to keep an eye on the health of both valuable supporting cast members.

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Teams hit hardest by flat $81.5M salary cap

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As focused as NHL teams are on the present with the ambitious return to play, the CBA extension introducing a flat salary cap for 2020-21 leaves GMs (and fans) with plenty to think about.

Sure, there are NHL teams who can take advantage of a flat salary cap. That’s a post for another day — maybe a future edition of PHT’s power rankings?

But, overall, there are plenty of NHL contenders and hopefuls who are sweating that flat salary cap far more than there are those ready to circle like vultures. At minimum, the flat NHL salary cap presents huge obstacles for 2020-21. The ripple effects of COVID-19 could affect multiple seasons, especially if the world continues to struggle to contain the coronavirus.

Let’s power rank the five NHL teams hit the hardest by the flat $81.5 million salary cap, then. While the larger future will be considered, these rankings weigh the offseason heading into 2020-21 most heavily.

Frankly, plenty of teams will sweat this situation, so the honorable mentions section is quite robust.

[At least there’s the NHL return-to-play schedule to look forward to.]

Power rankings: 5 NHL teams hit hardest by the flat salary cap

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Even in an ideal, pandemic-free world, the Lightning would need to tighten their belts. This franchise is a lot like the dynasty-era Blackhawks when it comes to perennial cap crunches, only they sadly don’t have the jewelry to show for it. But with the NHL salary cap flat at $81.5M? That belt-tightening morphs into the potential for painful surgeries.

After all, with about $76M already devoted to 15 players (give or take), things would be snug. Then you factor in talented RFAs Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev deserving significant raises, and … yikes. It’s the sort of thing that might make you want to jet ski out of town.

(Cirelli can’t wait tables forever.)

Infomercial voice: But that’s not all.

To make matters worse, Lightning GM Julien BriseBois faces potential hurdles in no-trade/no-movement clauses. Via Cap Friendly, supporting cast members such as Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, and Alex Killorn all own such clauses. So, it’s not just about who you’d want to move out (as painful as that already would be), but it’s also about who you could convince to leave.

Even by their frequently cap-challenged standards, the Lightning have their work cut out for them.

2. St. Louis Blues

The Lightning and Blues could really be a 1a/1b situation.

Much like Tampa Bay was expecting struggles even with a cap increase, the Blues likely knew that it would be difficult to keep Alex Pietrangelo. With about $79.45M devote to their roster, how could St. Louis afford a Norris-level defenseman like Pietrangelo? Heck, how can they make it work to keep underrated RFA blueliner Vince Dunn?

Also like the Lightning, it might come down to the Blues convincing players to waive clauses, or finding snug fits to places they’d accept.

Maybe the Blues could make it work by moving a combination of Alexander Steen, Jake Allen, and/or a more painful loss like Brayden Schenn or Jaden Schwartz. Or maybe the Blues lose Pietrangelo, still need to make an uncomfortable decision or two, and need to find a way to stay afloat?

Good thing they won at least one Stanley Cup, eh?

3. Arizona Coyotes

It’s OK if you’re doing a double-take at the Coyotes now. Aren’t they supposed to be a team barely making it to the floor? Weren’t they putting Chris Pronger and Pavel Datsyuk on their cap just to get there?

Well, over the years, the Coyotes have quietly been getting more and more expensive. They haven’t always got what they paid for, but this isn’t a wholly cheap team. (Although there’s still a Marian Hossa here or there on LTIR.)

Cap Friendly places Arizona’s cap allocation at almost $80M devoted to 17 players.

And that’s without Taylor Hall. Trading for Hall represented a statement that the Coyotes want to be taken seriously. Making him more than a rental would really cement that, but could Arizona really make that work — assuming Hall would return?

The Coyotes might deal with many of the same trade clause headaches as others (Phil Kessel, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Carl Soderberg), although bribing someone to take on Derek Stepan‘s $6.5M could be key. It may not be easy to find an oasis in this salary cap desert.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs are like a family trying to divvy up a pizza pie. You already had some hungry siblings who were going to leave little more than toppings and crust (see: expensive stars Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Mitch Marner). Now concerned parent/GM Kyle Dubas must deal with being delivered a medium pizza instead of the extra large he was expecting before the flat NHL salary cap.

At least in this coming offseason, he doesn’t have too many overly important mouths to feed.

(Yes, that lengthy pizza parallel is my hunger staining this conversation like grease on a pizza box.)

The flat salary cap hurts the Maple Leafs hardest in trying to make more aggressive moves toward improving. Maybe they can stem the tide of losing flawed-but-featured defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci. But will they get better in hoping internal options like Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren can sink, not swim? That remains to be seen.

But Dubas would also probably be wise to get proactive, because the bill is coming soon for key players. If the Maple Leafs want to keep one or more of Frederik Andersen (contract runs through 2020-21) and Morgan Rielly (through 2021-22), it will probably mean making some painful trades during the offseason.

The long-term outlook for the Maple Leafs is bumpy. They’re placed slightly lower in these specific power rankings because other teams face even more immediate concerns, though.

5. New York Islanders

Unlike others on this list, the Islanders aren’t already almost bumping their heads on that flat NHL salary cap ceiling. That said, their almost cozy-looking space (Cap Friendly puts them at about $73.4M pledged to 19 players) could get claustrophobic quickly.

Most importantly, the Islanders need to reach a deal with pending RFA star Mathew Barzal. Back about 20 years ago (OK, March), Lou Lamoriello said that the Islanders would match an offer sheet for Barzal. That’s comforting for Islanders fans who may still smart from losing John Tavares, but that doesn’t mean Barzal will be cheap. Frankly, his talent and importance to the Islanders probably justify a salary far exceeding their cap space.

Even at a discount, the Islanders won’t have much space to retain another important player in RFA defenseman Ryan Pulock. They’ll probably need to find a way to move some shaky contracts (such as those of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk), which is easier said than done, even for a master of the dark GM arts like Lamoriello.

Some teams below might technically face more immediate, in-your-face challenges. On the other hand, the uncomfortable thought for the Islanders is that they might face big bills with diminishing returns.

Quick thoughts on other teams likely to be hit hardest by flat NHL salary cap

You might believe that others deserve a mention, so feel free to chime in via the comments. A few quick hits before we go:

  • The Boston Bruins might rank as the biggest honorable mention. Even if you disagree, you’d likely admit that some pain may come. If they keep Torey Krug around, then Don Sweeney deserves a raise.
  • Then again, the Bruins aren’t alone in the honorable mentions. Much has been made of the Vancouver Canucks, who may feel enough of a squeeze to explain those Brock Boeser trade rumors, even if someone else ends up being the one standing at the end of flat NHL salary cap musical chairs.
  • The Washington Capitals face a conundrum with Braden Holtby, for sure. They also must try to figure out the future for Alex Ovechkin, whose lengthy contract wasn’t as lifetime as it seemed (it ends after 2020-21).
  • The Chicago Blackhawks are required to have cap issues. That’s simply the rule we must all abide by. In the latest iteration, it’s difficult to tell what might happen with their goaltending situation.
  • Again, this might be fodder for a future post, yet opportunistic rebuilding teams could feast if they’re creative. Why not take some short-term pain in the form of shaky contracts to earn long-term gains in future assets, particularly if you don’t expect your team to be very good anyway? A little further down the line, the flat/barely moving NHL salary cap could be a huge boon to the Seattle expansion team, too.

Who else will feel the crunch? Would you rank honorable mentions in the top five, or bump others out? Do tell.

MORE NHL POWER RANKINGS FROM PHT:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

PHT Morning Skate: Winners, losers of NHL Olympic return; Training camp battles

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Training camp battles, NHL playoff previews, and other return-to-play links

• Jackets Cannon looks at Columbus’ biggest strength: defense. In particular, Rachel Bules looks at how the pandemic pause will allow the Blue Jackets to have some serious training camp competition for spots. The Blue Jackets will need to be sharp, too, because the Maple Leafs’ firepower presents a real challenge for any defense corps. [Jackets Cannon]

• Speaking of the Maple Leafs — and training camp previews — Emily Sadler put together a thorough breakdown for Toronto. Can Frederik Andersen go the distance? Tyson Barrie ranks as a player to watch. Plus much more. [Sportsnet]

• George Richards takes a look at the Panthers’ “2.0” roster for training camp. If I had to single out a most interesting item, it’s that Anton Stralman has been involved. You may remember him airing some concerns about an NHL return. [Florida Hockey Now]

• What various analytics say about how the Wild’s lines match up with the Canucks. [Zone Coverage]

• It’s one thing for the Coyotes to say that they want to “get a little more juice” out of their offense. It’s another thing to actually lay out how it might work. Craig Morgan rolls out a detailed approach of how that might happen, including activating weakside defensemen. [AZ Coyotes Insider]

• The pandemic pause ranks as the biggest curveball Carter Hart‘s seen in the NHL so far. That said, it’s far from the only one. If he keeps passing these tests, it might all be to the benefit of Hart’s career. [NBC Sports Philadelphia]

Other hockey links

• As a pending UFA on a team that could face a salary cap crunch, Christopher Tanev knows he might not be back with the Canucks. Tanev said he hopes that he can return, and in particular, he’d love to remain Quinn Hughes‘ defensive partner for a long time. [NHL.com]

• It’s easy to look at the NHL’s return to Olympic participation as a good thing for everyone involved. As Ryan Kennedy points out, it depends on the outlook for different countries’ national teams. Kennedy presents the winners and losers for the NHL return to the Olympics, with Germany landing in an interesting spot. [The Hockey News]

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.