It’s been a long 16-year wait, but the Toronto Maple Leafs can finally win a playoff series on Sunday evening. Kind of. We’re still not sure if this counts officially as the ‘playoffs’ but a wonky year in sports creates these types of issues.
This Leafs/Jackets series has been bonkers, perhaps a crazy microcosm of society right now, or sports in general in the year 2020. There have been many emotional roller-coaster moments throughout the first 4 games. We’ve had fights, overtimes, multiple three-goal leads blown, and now it comes down to one final game for the right to advance.
The winner of Sunday’s contest will meet a powerful Tampa Bay Lightning side, adding intrigue to Game 5. It was these Blue Jackets that swept Tampa last post-season, and a rematch would be thoroughly fascinating.
But it’s the Leafs that enter with the perceived edge in momentum. Down 3-0 with just over three minutes to play in Game 4, the talented Leafs showed some spark and scored an improbable three times with the goalie out! It was an historic comeback, as Auston Matthews finished off the Jackets in overtime.
Columbus has to feel sick with that outcome, and though they can say that the collapse is past them and move on, it’s a tough mental hurdle to overcome. The Jackets missed multiple empty nets to seal the series, and now a talented and motivated Leafs’ squad might have the lifeline they need.
Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain – this Game 5 on Sunday night is absolutely appointment-TV viewing. This series has been peak sports, and is what the majority of us craved for when we heard sports were returning. For further breakdown, team news, and betting analysis – read on beneath the odds for our prediction on the conclusion to this wild serious.
Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs Betting Odds:
Columbus Blue Jackets (+144)
Toronto Maple Leafs (-159)
Over 5.5 (+112)
Under 5.5 (-123)
*Betting odds provided by BetOnline.ag
Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs Pick:
Expect the Leafs to come out firing early and often in this contest. Following the thrilling comeback 48 hours ago, Toronto should be buzzing to win this series – potentially their first in 16 long years.
After struggling against Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo, they finally solved him in a big way. And after getting thwarted by their other netminder in Elvis Merzlikins, they finally broke out against him late in Game 4. Now it will be intriguing to see where the Blue Jackets turn for this decisive showdown. Both goalies have been stellar though, and regardless of who is between the pipes – it shouldn’t move the betting line too much.
One injury however that could move the betting line is the current status of Columbus defenseman Zack Werenski. We’ve already seen the line move heavily in the favour of Toronto in the lead-up to Game 5, and that could have something to do with the Jackets being without one of their top horses on the back-end. Werenski seemed to be battling a shoulder injury late in Game 4, and didn’t play in overtime. He received an MRI yesterday, though his status remains a mystery.
If he can’t go, it’s a big advantage to the Leafs – but can this group get over past demons and mental hurdles to close out a series? They’ve had three chances in the past two seasons, and fallen beyond flat in every single test. Though they stormed back in Game 4, let’s not forget there was quite a bit of luck involved, and they were completely lifeless for the first 57 minutes of that game.
The Leafs remain a flawed team, with rapidly thinning depth at all positions. Jake Muzzin is still out injured, a huge blow to this weak defense corps. Frederik Andersen has also started to show some signs of pressure, as he’s faded as the series has gone on. He’ll be on the to watch Sunday night, as the big Danish netminder boasts a dismal .856 save percentage in elimination games. If he folds again, this could be his last look in a Leafs’ uniform.
In a do-or-die scenario, I lean to the team that makes less mistakes, and that is unquestionably this Blue Jackets team. They’ve been here before, and closed out teams before – and despite blowing that lead on Friday, it has the ability to make them stronger and hungrier for Sunday. Expect a well-structured and disciplined game-plan, one focused on simple plays and frustrating this talented Leafs side.
Expect the Jackets to really wear down a battered Leafs’ defense with an aggressive forecheck and pressure on the puck through the neutral zone. Their checking has frustrated the Leafs throughout this series, and with a goaltending advantage via Korpisalo or Merzlikins, their juicy underdog price is tantalizing.
Too much is being factored in about the blown lead. In a one-game scenario, the Jackets can shake it off as they gladly would’ve taken this prior to the series. Expect a professional effort from Columbus, as the Leafs’ misery continues to yet another uncertain off-season.
Pick: Columbus 3-1