Blue Jackets-Maple Leafs Preview


TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs saved themselves a tense final game of the season when they came back to defeat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3 on Saturday night to clinch a playoff spot.

It will take some of the pressure off the Maple Leafs when they play the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday to wrap up the regular season for both teams.

The Blue Jackets entered Saturday already knowing that they will be playing the Penguins in the first round with Pittsburgh having home-ice advantage.

Both teams still have something to play for at the Air Canada Centre, however.

The Blue Jackets are on a six-game losing streak (0-5-1) and would like to enter the playoffs on a winning note.

If the Maple Leafs fail to get at least a point against the Blue Jackets, they will play the President's Cup champion Washington Capitals in the first round.

If they obtain the point, they play the Ottawa Senators.

The only other mystery for the Maple Leafs is the status of their starting goaltender Frederik Andersen, who left the game Saturday early in the second period after being knocked to the ice by Tom Sestito.

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock did not have an update after the game although he said, ideally, he would like have him for the game Sunday.

However, Babcock announced Sunday morning that even though Andersen was not experiencing any concussion symptoms, the No. 1 goalie will not dress against the Blue Jackets.

The starting assignment for Sunday likely falls to Curtis McElhinney, who filled in Saturday and made key saves.

"It's tough," McElhinney said of Andersen. "Obviously, he's been the heart and soul of this team playing the amount of games (66) that he has so far. He's been a leader and I don't think you ever want to see him get hurt in a situation like that. At the same point, it's something that, as far as backup goalies go, you dream about it. It was a great opportunity."

The Maple Leafs with a lineup filled with talented rookies, are ahead of schedule by making the playoffs this season.

"To be honest with you, I didn't know the kids could be this good," Babcock said.

He still is treating the game against the Blue Jackets seriously.

"We're going to try to win the game," he said. "It's important for us. It makes no difference in their life, but we've got to come out and play right and get prepared and play as hard as we possibly can.

"(The Blue Jackets) have a back-to-back, too. It's different than ours, obviously, just because they've probably been sitting having dinner, watching the game. It's still a back-to-back so prepare and play hard."

The Blue Jackets played Saturday afternoon, losing 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

"It's not a switch we can flip, no," defenseman Seth Jones said. "But we're going to have to make it one (Sunday). We can't let panic come into our game. We have to stay more composed. When we start panicking, you see what happens, and it's not pretty. ... (Sunday) is a big game for us. It's really big. You don't want to go into the playoffs losing seven straight. I don't have all the answers for you, but from top to bottom we have to be harder on pucks. We are not winning enough 50-50 battles."

The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff spot with 11 games left in the regular-season schedule and that could be a factor.

"I'm not going to pick it apart or go into a lot of talk about my team right now, because it's so hard to judge it in these type of circumstances," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "It's human nature."

"We have to go back to our working habits and it's not going to be easy, and we have to understand that," Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said.

Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski missed his third straight game with a shoulder injury Saturday but is expected to be ready for the playoffs. Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, the Blue Jackets' first-round draft pick in 2015, made his NHL debut Saturday.

Meanwhile, before the Maple Leafs play the Blue Jackets, they could enjoy the moment Saturday.

"A good win for our city and for our loyal fan base," Babcock said. "I think for them, as much as getting in the playoffs is important for them, they see the future has an opportunity to have a chance to be a good team.

"You look at a team like Tampa (Tampa Bay Lightning). Tampa has got all those injuries and they're deep enough to still play. If we had those injuries, we wouldn't have a sniff. Ideally, a couple of years from now, we'll be good enough to get in even if we have injuries."

What to Read Next