This time, it was surely over.
There was no way the Columbus Blue Jackets were overcoming this 3-0 deficit, not this year, not against the Toronto Maple Leafs – who apparently studied closely what Columbus did to another team that wears blue and white last year.
After dominating the Jackets in Game 2 on Tuesday to tie a best-of-five series, the Maple Leafs raced out to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period Thursday night at Scotiabank Arena. They were toying with the Jackets, the way a tiger or lion plays with its dinner before devouring it, and there was no way Columbus was coming back.
Until it happened, that is.
The Blue Jackets found a way to escape, tied the game in the third and then won it 4-3 on Pierre-Luc Dubois’ third goal of the game with 1:36 left in OT for a 2-1 lead in the series and a chance to clinch in Game 4 at 8 p.m. ET Friday.
Dubois also scored goals in the second and third periods, notching the first playoff hat trick in the Jackets’ franchise history. All three goals were scored with elite skill, including the winner that he roofed under the crossbar to beat Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen off a short breakaway.
All three goals from Dubois’ hat trick tonight!🧢🧢🧢 #CBJpic.twitter.com/RHadOJwOkp
According to NHL statistics, teams that have won Game 3 after splitting the first two in a best-of-five series have a 21-7 all-time record in the outcomes of those series. That’s a .750 winning percentage.
The comeback began with a goal in the second by Dubois, who’d missed the net on a couple of good scoring chances earlier in the period. He didn’t miss on the third, one-timing a pass from Zach Werenski into the net shortly after Toronto’s Nick Robertson had chased goalie Joonas Korpisalo with Toronto’s third goal.
Elvis Merzlikins entered the game in net, kept the Maple Leafs at three goals and Seth Jones then pulled the Jackets within 3-2 on a tally 7:27 into the third.
Dubois, who got into a fiery exchange of words with coach John Tortorella in Game 2, then tied it 3-3, scoring his second of the game at 10:49.
It was every bit as stunning as the 3-0 deficit the Jackets erased in the first round of last year’s playoffs, when they came back to down the Tampa Bay Lightning in shocking fashion to take the opening game of a sweep.
Perhaps, it was even more impressive given the way the Maple Leafs dominated the first half of the game – getting goals by Cody Ceci and William Nylander before Robertson’s goal.
The Jackets showed significantly more aggression than they did Tuesday in Game 2, trading some big hits with the Maple Leafs and establishing more possession time in the Toronto zone.
They were outshot again in the first, 9-6, but it was still an improvement from the Maple Leafs’ domination two days earlier. The Jackets also came inches from scoring the game’s first goal, when Boone Jenner rung a hard wrist shot off the crossbar behind Andersen with 5:45 left in the opening period.
Toronto still had better success in the first, though, from secondary statistical measures to the actual goal Ceci scored shorthanded with just 1:08 left. According to NaturalStatTrick.com, the Maple Leafs had more shot attempts, more unblocked attempts and built a wide margin in scoring chances – which favored them 17-5 overall and 7-1 from the high-danger areas of the ice.
Korpisalo and nine blocked shots were the only reasons Toronto didn’t score multiple times, with the lone one that snuck into the net being ushered in by luck.
Ceci gave the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead in the waning minutes of the first by launching a slap shot from the right point of the Columbus zone while killing a penalty. The puck skipped off Seth Jones’ left shin pad, as he stood in front of Korpisalo, and it skipped into the net.
Toronto wasn’t done, though.
Nylander scored on a power play at 7:08 of the third to make it 2-0 and Robertson netted the first goal he’s ever scored in any kind of NHL game 1:40 later, giving Toronto what seemed like an insurmountable 3-0 lead.
The Jackets had other plans, specifically Dubois and Jones.
The goals they scored were all things of beauty, including Jones making up for his poor luck on Ceci’s goal with a perfectly placed wrist shot under the crossbar for the second goal.
Dubois’ equalizer was equally impressive, scored under Andersen’s arm on the far side with a quick release of a wrist shot at top speed – taken from the right faceoff circle.
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