Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure. CP photo

Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure. CP photo

Korpisalo gets shutout in 1st post-season start, Blue Jackets down Maple Leafs

‘They play a pretty straightforward game’

TORONTO — The Maple Leafs have known since late May the Columbus Blue Jackets were on the docket to begin the NHL’s restart.

Toronto watched video, discussed tactics and practised different ways to break down an opponent with a grinding, soul-sucking defensive structure.

Seeing it up close was an entirely different matter.

Joonas Korpisalo made 28 saves in his first post-season appearance, Cam Atkinson scored in the third period, and the Blue Jackets downed the Leafs 2-0 on Sunday to take an early lead in their best-of-five qualifying round series.

Sure, Toronto had chances, but not nearly enough. The Leafs weren’t able to get to the inside against a tough blue-line corps led by Seth Jones and Zack Werenski that mostly neutralized Auston Matthews’ line with the help of Pierre-Luc Dubois up front.

“I don’t think anything really surprised us,” said Matthews, who was third in the league with 47 goals in 2019-20. “They play a pretty straightforward game, and you know what to expect every night. They’re gonna compete, they’re gonna play physical.”

Frederik Andersen stopped 33 shots for Toronto, but was fooled on Atkinson’s innocent effort from the top of the right circle 65 seconds into the third.

“His initial release looked to be a little bit higher,” said the Leafs netminder, who was beaten under his blocker. ”I reacted up and obviously made a mistake.

“That cost us a goal and eventually the game, unfortunately.”

The Leafs were designated as the “home” team inside the friendly confines of a cavernous, empty Scotiabank Arena as the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed in the NHL’s 24-team restart to a campaign halted by the COVID-19 pandemic 4 1/2 months ago.

Alex Wennberg scored into an empty net with 18.2 seconds left for ninth-seeded Columbus, which will now look to grab a stranglehold with a victory in Tuesday’s Game 2.

“I felt pretty confident from the get-go,” said the 26-year-old Korpisalo. ”The boys played really good in front of me, battling for me to see the puck.

“That was awesome. That was fun to play.”

After the Blue Jackets nudged ahead early in the third, the Leafs tried to get their high-octane offence going, but were unable to get many second and third opportunities, and were held without a shot over the final 6:12 of regulation.

Andersen kept the Toronto in it with a toe save on Alexandre Texier with under three minutes to go, but his teammates couldn’t find a way through to Korpisalo before Wennberg sealed it.

“They did what they do best, and what we were prepared for,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe, who played for Columbus bench boss John Tortorella with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the early 2000s. ”We knew it was going to be difficult.

“Now we’re out on the ice and you feel it.”

Following a scoreless opening 20 minutes that featured a couple of clear-cut chances, the goalies stole the show in the second.

Korpisalo, who got the nod ahead of first-year sensation Elvis Merzlikins, denied Matthews at the side of the net on an early power play, while Andersen stopped Eric Robinson on a break and Texier from the slot.

The Columbus netminder had his bench up banging their sticks on the boards later in the period when he robbed Matthews with the glove on a one-timer.

“He played unbelievable,” Blue Jackets defenceman David Savard said. ”He made some key saves, I think on Matthews there in the second was a turning point for us.

“That was huge for our game.”

Jones then fired a shot off the crossbar before Andersen robbed Oliver Bjorkstrand — both players are from Herning, Denmark — with an exceptional toe stop that the deserved a standing ovation, not the din of canned crowd noise.

“I’d expect more of these games moving forward,” Leafs blue-liner Morgan Rielly said of the defensive struggle. ”And I would also expect for us to be able to handle them better.”

Rookie winger Nick Robertson suited up for Toronto after scoring 55 goals in 46 games in 2019-20 with the Peterborough Petes of the Ontario Hockey League, becoming the first 18-year-old to make his NHL debut in the post-season since Jarome Iginla in 1996.

Robertson had a terrific opportunity on his first shift, but Korpisalo was there with his right pad. The Leafs, who were back in their home locker room after making way for the Montreal Canadiens in Tuesday’s exhibition game, were otherwise on their heels the rest of the first half of the first period.

Andersen made a good stop on a Dubois breakaway before Matthews stole the puck and chimed a shot off Korpisalo’s crossbar. Werenski then did the same off the near post at the other end moments later.

Both teams were close to full health after the schedule was suspended March 12. Jones would have been a serious question mark with an ankle injury had the playoffs started as usual in April, while Toronto blue-liner Jake Muzzin (hand) and Ilya Mikheyev (wrist laceration) are also back. Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson (knee) continues to work his way back and could be available as the resumption of play progresses, should his team advance.

Prior to Sunday, the Leafs last played a meaningful game March 10 — a stretch of 145 days — while the Blue Jackets’ last suited up for real March 8.

Toronto and Columbus sat with identical points percentages (.579) when the novel coronavirus shuttered the season, but the Leafs secured the eighth seed with 28 regulation wins compared to the Blue Jackets’ 25.

“Two teams that were tight together in the standings, two teams that are very competitive,” Keefe said. ”I thought we played a good enough game to win.

“But obviously, you can’t win when you don’t score.”

Notes: Toronto owns a 7-8 record all-time in best-of-five series, with those 15 appearances being the most in league history. The NHL used to play best-of-five in the first round, but expanded to a best-of-seven format following the 1985-86 season. … The Blue Jackets and Leafs played twice in the regular season, but it was a while ago. Toronto picked up a 4-1 victory in Columbus on Oct. 4 before suffering a 4-3 overtime loss at home Oct. 21.

Just Posted

(File photo from The Canadian Press)
Red Deer down to 66 active COVID-19 cases

Red Deer has lowest number of active cases since last November

Orange shirts, shoes, flowers and messages are displayed on the steps outside the legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Tuesday, June 8, 2021 following a ceremony hosted by the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations in honour of the 215 residential school children whose remains have been discovered buried near the facility in Kamloops, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Alberta city cancels Canada Day fireworks at site of former residential school

City of St. Albert says that the are where the display was planned, is the site of the former Youville Residential School

FILE – Perry Bellegarde, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, takes part in an event on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 7, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Indigenous Peoples Day must be a ‘call to action’, says Assembly of First Nations chief

Discovery of children at Kamloops residential school site must lead to change, Perry Bellegarde says

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Alberta reports 100 new cases of COVID-19

The Central zone sits at 218 active cases

The Government of Alberta identified 115 new COVID-19 cases Sunday, bringing the provincial total to 3,089.
(Black Press file photo)
Red Deer drops to 71 active cases of COVID-19

Province adds 127 new cases of the virus

The border crossing into the United States is seen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Lacolle, Que. on February 12, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
VIDEO: Border quarantine to soon lift for fully vaccinated Canadians

Eligible travellers must still take multiple COVID-19 tests

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2020, file photo, Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib leaves the field after an NFL football game against the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta. Nassib on Monday, June 21, 2021, became the first active NFL player to come out as gay. Nassib announced the news on Instagram, saying he was not doing it for the attention but because “I just think that representation and visibility are so important.” (AP Photo/John Bazemore, File)
Nassib becomes first active NFL player to come out as gay

More than a dozen NFL players have come out as gay after their careers were over

A pair of Alberta residents were arrested after police responded to a report of a woman who had allegedly been assaulted and confined against her will on June 20, 2021. (File photo)
Salmon Arm RCMP arrest 2 Albertans suspected in alleged assault, unlawful confinement

Firearms, stolen items seized including NHL hockey cards believed to be worth thousands

A man makes his way past signage to a mass COVID-19 vaccination centre at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus during the COVID-19 pandemic in Mississauga, Ont., on Monday, May 17, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Canadians encouraged to see mRNA shots as interchangeable as more 2nd doses open up

Doctors urge people not to hesitate if offered Moderna after getting Pfizer for their first shot

Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance sits in the front row during a news conference in Ottawa on June 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Defence committee rises without report on Vance allegations

Committee had been investigating the government’s handling of complaints against former defence chief

Tl’etinqox-lead ceremony at the site of the former St. Joseph’s Mission in Williams Lake, B.C., June 18, 2021. (Angie Mindus photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
‘We are all one people’: Honouring residential school victims and survivors

Love, support and curiousity: Canadians urged to learn about residential schools and their impact

Indigenous rights and climate activists gathered outside Liberty Mutual’s office in Vancouver to pressure the insurance giant to stop covering Trans Mountain. (Photo by Andrew Larigakis)
Activists work to ensure Trans Mountain won’t get insurance

Global campaign urging insurance providers to stay away from Canadian pipeline project

Investigators use a bucket to help recover human remains at a home burned in the Camp fire, Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Magalia, Calif. Many of the missing in the deadly Northern California wildfire are elderly residents in Magalia, a forested town of about 11,000 north of the destroyed town of Paradise. (AP Photo/John Locher)
‘Forever War’ with fire has California battling forests instead

Five of the state’s largest-ever blazes seared California last year, as authorities tackle prevention

Tokyo 2020 President Seiko Hashimoto and IOC President Thomas Bach, on a screen, speak during a five=party online meeting at Harumi Island Triton Square Tower Y in Tokyo Monday, June 21, 2021. The Tokyo Olympics will allow some local fans to attend when the games open in just over a month, Tokyo organizing committee officials and the IOC said on Monday. (Rodrigo Reyes Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Tokyo Olympics to allow Japanese fans only, with strict limits

Organizers set a limit of 50% capacity — up to a maximum of 10,000 fans

Most Read