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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

So It’s Come to This: Another Leafs Elimination Game

Well, here we are.

After Friday night’s historic comeback, the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Columbus Blue Jackets will square off one more time, only this time both teams face the win-or-go-home reality.

Welcome to Game Five.

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Game Four was a wild ride for Leafs fans, watching the team fall behind early and never really looking like the dominant force that many expect them to be. By the time Columbus center (and possible backwoods moonshiner) Boone Jenner scored what at the time looked to be the 3-0 dagger with less than seven minutes left in the third period, the takes, which had been free flowing all night long, were kicked into overdrive (For some. Definitely not me though. I am a cool, rational dude.)

But the Leafs, fists raised in defiance of everything this fan base has come to expect from them…they came back. They came back and they won.

And here we are.

The Leafs stayed true to form in the qualifying round, following up a wildly inconsistent season with a wildly inconsistent performance across the first four games leaving fans wondering, as they had all season, What the hell is this team?” From the outclassed pushovers of Game One, to the dominating powerhouse of Game Two; to the spineless chokers who crumbled at the first sign of adversity in Game Three, to the resilient, never-say-die warriors who took victory from the jaws of sure defeat in Game Four, he Toronto Maple Leafs have made their fans run the gauntlet of emotions the last week. It all comes to a boil tonight. Which Leafs team will show up? How will the Blue Jackets respond? Will all this be for naught? Will the highs of Game Four bring us the devastating lows of a painful elimination loss, or will it be, as many have suggested, a turning point for this Leafs core? A moment we can all look back on in the future and say, “that’s when. That’s when I knew this team was special.”

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Lines

 

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Goaltenders

The Toronto Maple Leafs will, as they often do, will turn to Frederik Andersen. Despite some criticism for letting in seemingly stoppable shots at inopportune times, Andersen has posted a .941 save percentage for the Leafs in this series. This will be the third consecutive year in which Andersen plays in a winner take all for the Leafs, and the team has to hope a third time’s a charm. Across the last two years, Andersen has posted a combined .865 save percentage in Toronto’s back-to-back game seven losses to the Boston Bruins.

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Columbus will turn back to their original starter with John Tortorella announcing this morning that Joonas Korpisalo will get the start for Game Five, before later revealing that Elvis Merzlikins sustained an injury at some point during his Game Four loss. Matiss Kivlenieks will serve as Columbus’ backup for Game Five. Korpisalo got the hook in Game Three following Nick Robertson’s goal, and Elvis Merzlikins held strong as the Jackets mounted their comeback. It looked as though Columbus was going to ride a Game Four Merzlikins shutout to a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning before the Leafs engineered a miracle comeback victory of their own.

 

Players to Watch

 

As mentioned above, Frederik Andersen looks to put the narrative that he can’t win a big game to rest. All the miracle saves in close and .950 save percentage performances become moot when you’re 0-2 in back-to-back game sevens with a handful of backbreaking soft goals against that people can point out. It might be a small sample to draw from, but if Andersen adds another dud to his game log, it will become harder to not look at it as something of a trend.

For Columbus, the obvious player of note is Seth Jones. With Zach Werenski and Ryan Murray both potentially playing through some sort of injury, we could see Jones logging heavy minutes while doing most of the heavy lifting against Toronto’s top line.

Coverage for tonight’s game begins at 8 p.m. EST and can be watched on Sportsnet in Canada and NBCSN in the United States.

Line-up subject to change, all statistics provided from Hockey Reference