One of the most fascinating series from the NHL’s best-of-five play-in rounds is the showdown between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For starters, it perfectly pits two contrasting styles in direct conflict. The stingy and pesky defensive-oriented structure imposed by the Blue Jackets vs. the high-flying offensive game the Leafs trot out there.
Beyond that, there’s an intriguing storyline behind the bench as Blue Jackets’ coach John Tortorella used to actually coach Leafs’ bench boss, Sheldon Keefe, back when he was a player. You can bet the two know each other quite well, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in terms of in-game tactics and matchups.
This series also represents the first time either squad has been close to full health this season. The Blue Jackets still held firm throughout, despite losing key defenseman Seth Jones, and top forwards Cam Atkinson and Oliver Bjorkstrand for prolonged periods.
Meanwhile for the Buds, aside from Andreas Johnsson – they too are fully healthy, especially on defense. The Leafs haven’t played a full game with their preferred six-man unit all season long, and that could help their structure and play without the puck. Morgan Rielly and Jake Muzzin are back on the blueline, as is Russian rookie Ilya Mikheyev – who looks primed for a big post-season.
A team predicated on generating offense and playing high-event hockey going against a team that will surely look to clog lanes and impose a patient system. It’s a beautiful contrast of styles, and one of the main reasons this series will have so much attention. Which style could win out this series? For that, and more details, team news, and analysis, continue reading on beneath the posted odds for our Game 1 prediction of the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs.
Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs Betting Odds:
Columbus Blue Jackets (+131)
Toronto Maple Leafs (-145)
Over 6 (-105)
Under 6 (-115)
*Betting odds provided by BetOnline.ag
Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs Pick:
Expect this series to be a long one – and ultimately one that should go the distance. Despite their contrasting styles, one thing is for certain – both clubs are good at what they do.
The Leafs boast impressive forward depth and can generate scoring chances at even strength like few other teams. Having that game-breaking skill is crucial for the playoffs, when the game typically tightens up.
But this isn’t a typical season, and who knows what will play better in the early stages of this series – the offense of the Leafs, or the grinding defensive structure imposed by Columbus?
But when the Leafs do have the puck, this is a deep and talented offensive unit that should be able to make Columbus chase them for the majority of the series. Despite a perceived size disadvantage, that isn’t the case for Toronto’s top forwards. Ilya Mikheyev, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, and Zach Hyman are all great on the boards and can withstand the push the Jackets’ give them when they’re holding the puck.
Beyond them, Mitch Marner and William Nylander remain elite playmakers with cerebral vision that could and should break down the Blue Jackets at least a couple of times this series.
While Columbus boasts a big edge in terms of play beneath the hash marks, and defensive structure, this is a Toronto group that is now mature enough to realize what needs to be done in playoff-style hockey, and one that is fully healthy for the first-time all season. The Leafs themselves will be committed to playing better without the puck, and that’s why I anticipate a tighter and lower-scoring series than expected.
Despite Toronto’s firepower, expect them to really focus on their own play without the puck, and not necessarily take all of the chances forward they typically would have in the past. While I like the Leafs to secure a Game 1 victory, the better value right now is on the Under 6 goals. So far, we’ve seen these return-to-play games trend lower scoring and be tighter-checking than usual. The offense has yet to fully catch up, and as a result, look to a low-scoring encounter on Sunday evening.
Pick: Toronto 3 – Columbus 2