Goalie Joonas Kirpisalo and the Columbus Blue Jackets proved how they learned their lesson about holding three-goal leads.
They’re advancing to the first round of the NHL playoffs because they weren’t going to squander one for a second time in three days.
Korpisalo stopped 33 shots, Zach Werenski’s floater from the left point in the first period held up as the winner, and the Blue Jackets defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 win in a decisive Game 5 on Sunday night.
“There’s no quit whatsoever in this team,” Blue Jackets center Gustav Nyquist said in the team putting behind blowing a three-goal lead over the final four minutes of a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4 two nights earlier.
“That was a wild game obviously, the last game. This is kind of what we do, like you know we do it the hard way and we get it done,” he added. “It feels good to win so we can put that little debacle behind us.”
Liam Foudy sneaked in a shot from a bad angle with 8:20 remaining, and captain Nick Foligno sealed the victory by scoring into an open net with 23 seconds remaining to close a rollicking best-of-five series in which the teams first traded shutout wins, and the Blue Jackets overcame a 3-0 deficit in a 4-3 OT win in Game 3.
“It’s a group that we don’t do it easy, the easy way,” coach John Tortorella said. “As I said to you guys earlier today, we just try to go out and play. I’m proud them.”
Werenski played despite not being able to finish Game 4 with an apparent upper body injury. And Korpisalo posted his second shutout of the series, while getting the start after Elvis Merzlikins was ruled to be unfit to play.
The Maple Leafs ran out of offense with captain John Tavares misfiring by hitting the post while facing a wide-open side in the first period. Frederik Andersen stopped 19 shots, and was caught cheating to his right in giving up Foudy’s goal from a bad angle.
Columbus advances to the first round, where it will meet the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in a rematch of last year’s first-round series. The Blue Jackets swept the President’s Trophy-winning Lightning in four games a year ago in their first playoff series victory in franchise history.
The Lightning are suddenly facing injury issues. Star defenseman Victor Hedman went down with an apparent right ankle injury in a 4-1 robin-robin-closing loss to Philadelphia on Saturday, and captain Steven Stamkos has yet to play since sustaining a lower body injury last month. It’s unclear if either will be available for Game 1, which has yet to be scheduled.
So much for hometown advantage to the NHL’s two hub-city teams with both the Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers eliminated in the preliminary round.
The Maple Leafs continued their one-and-done playoff woes in making their fourth straight postseason appearance, and fifth since the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Toronto has not advanced since knocking off Ottawa in Game 7 of a 2004 first-round series.
“It’s hard to put it all into words,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said, when asked to compare this loss to that of losing Game 7 of last year’s opening-round series to Boston.
“Right now, it feels like it’s harder to live with,” he added. “I can’t really put my emotions into words. I don’t have the vocabulary for it.”
Werenski opened the scoring 6:29 in when his shot from the left point appeared to deflect off of Maple Leafs defenseman Tyson Barrie, who was jostling in front with Boone Jenner, and went in over Andersen’s shoulder.
Tavares squandered an opportunity to tie the game with 3:45 left in the opening period. Set up by Rielly in the right circle, and with Korpisalo out of position at the left post, Tavares rushed a shot that struck the inside of the right post and caromed back through the crease.
“My hand slipped just a tad. … But saying that, obviously a great opportunity want to finish,” Tavares said.
Tavares was set up in the same spot five minutes into the second period, only to this time be denied by Korpisalo, who got a piece of the puck with his blocker.
Foudy scored his first career playoff goal by tracking down a dump in along the right boards near the goal line. He skated toward the net and sneaked a shot in through Andersen’s legs.
Toronto might have ranked third in the NHL in averaging 3.39 goals per game in the regular season, but the Leafs were foiled by a Columbus opponent that finished tied for second in allowing just 2.57 goals per outing.
The Blue Jackets placed a blanket on Toronto’s high-octane offense in limiting it to just 19 shots through two periods and 33 overall, two nights after allowing 53.
NOTES: Maple Leafs LW Andreas Johnsson returned to play after being activated off injured reserve earlier in the day. Johnsson has been out since having knee surgery in February. The third-year player has eight goals and 21 points in 43 games. … Johnsson replaced rookie Nicholas Robertson, who had a goal in four games. … Blue Jackets D Ryan Murray returned after missing Game 3. … Columbus dressed seven defenseman. … The Maple Leafs were down to finishing the final 32 minutes with five defensemen after Barrie was shaken up after being crunched in the Toronto corner by Jenner.
Blue Jackets: Advance to first round to face Tampa Bay Lightning. Game 1 is Tuesday.
Maple Leafs: Season over.
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