By ROBERT MACLEOD
Tuesday, January 9, 2018
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs do not like doing anything easy these days.
And so it was on Monday night at Air Canada Centre, where the Leafs coughed up a late two-goal lead to send the game into overtime, where the Columbus Blue Jackets managed to prevail for a 3-2 win.
The winning goal was provided by Artemi Panarin, who poked in the puck into the gaping side of the net past Toronto netminder Frederik Andersen, who deserved better on this night.
The goal came moments after Columbus netminder Sergei Bobrovsky robbed Tyler Bozak on a breakaway with a nice pad save.
It was a rugged and tightly played affair in which the goal scoring did not get going until about midway through the second period, when James van Riemsdyk made a deft deflection of a Roman Polak shot from the point that moved Toronto in front 1-0.
For the Toronto winger, it was his 18th goal of the season against a feisty Columbus team that has had Toronto's number of late.
The Leafs took a 2-0 lead into the third period, where Columbus made it tense late, with a goal by Jordan Schroeder with just 4 minutes 35 seconds left ruining Andersen's bid for his fourth shutout of the season.
The Columbus comeback was complete when Pierre-Luc Dubois fired home a wrist shot from the slot to tie the score with 2:47 remaining and send it into a shootout.
The Leafs came in on a bit of a roll, having won their previous two outings, both in shootouts - including a 3-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks in their last outing on Saturday night.
The Blue Jackets came in following a 3-2 shootout win over the Florida Panthers in Columbus on Sunday night and did not arrive in Toronto until the wee hours of the morning Monday.
Some might suggest playing a sleepy-eyed Blue Jackets outfit would benefit the Leafs, but Toronto coach Mike Babcock was having none of that, pointing to a dominating 4-2 Columbus win over his squad back on Dec. 20.
"Back-to-backs when you get in at 2 in the morning are different than back-to-back when you play at noon or back-toback when you play at five," Babcock noted after Toronto's pregame skate on Monday.
"I just think they slapped us around last time we were in their building, and we've got to be ready to play."
Columbus has been tough on the Leafs of late, having won five of its past six games against Toronto, including the past three in a row at the ACC.
Defenceman Travis Dermott, who played in his first NHL game for Toronto on Saturday after being promoted from the American Hockey League Marlies, was back in the lineup for Monday's game, paired with Jake Gardiner.
An energetic opening frame did not produce any goals.
Bobrovsky had to be careful early on in order to handle a deflection off the stick of Toronto's Mitch Marner, a harbinger of things to come.
The Blue Jackets outshot Toronto 11-8, but Andersen was equal to the task. His best save came in the period's later stages when he flashed some mean leather to gather up a dangerous shot by Nick Foligno while Columbus enjoyed the man advantage.
Toronto's penalty kill, clicking along at a close-to-84-percent success rate heading into the contest, was excelling again.
The Leafs killed off a thirdstraight Columbus power play early in the second period, not allowing a shot on goal in the process.
After that was done, Andersen had to be sharp to make a chest save on a dangerous foray by Panarin, who curled into the slot and let one fly.
It was then time for van Riemsdyk to work his magic in front of the Columbus net, deftly redirecting a shot by Polak behind Bobrovsky for a 1-0 Toronto lead at the 11:09 mark.
Just more than five minutes later, after weathering an offensive storm by Columbus in their own end, the Leafs made it 2-0 on a power-play marker by William Nylander.
Nylander, playing the right point, got the puck and moved in quickly, unleashing a laser that beat Bobrovsky to the short side.
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson and Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen watch the puck in front of the net during their matchup in Toronto on Monday.
CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANADIAN PRESS