We ask three questions where the answers will determine if the Toronto Maple Leafs once more tie up their play-in series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, or get eliminated.
It’s a significant understatement to proclaim that things did not go as planned for the Leafs on Thursday night. After building a healthy 3-0 lead, they fell apart and lost 4-3 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime.
Now, the Leafs find themselves on the brink of elimination before even making it to the official first round of the playoffs. This was not predicted beforehand, with the Leafs picked as favourites to beat the Blue Jackets and advance.
Regardless, this is now where the Leafs find themselves, entering a do-or-die scenario on Friday night. As such, here are three questions where the answers will determine if they will win Game 4 and force a deciding fifth game in the series:
1) Do the Leafs have the mental fortitude to recover from a devastating loss?
In general, NHL players can’t be accused of being lethargic. You don’t reach that level in hockey without an excellent work ethic.
And yet, this is exactly how the Leafs came across on Thursday night. There is no doubt they took their foot off the pedal after taking their 3-0 lead, almost as if they believed the game was already won.
In fact head coach Sheldon Keefe took it a step further, by saying he didn’t like how the team played even as they built their three-goal advantage. As a result, the Leafs now find themselves in a position where we’re going to learn a lot about their mental fortitude.
Losing in such a manner is going to prove to be a defining moment for this young roster. The question is, how are they going to respond?
Will the Leafs be shell-shocked by the result, unable to recover and meekly surrendering in Game 4? Or will they come storming back, more determined than ever to prove the critics wrong?
Even now, Leafs fans have a tough time recalling the infamous Game 7 collapse to the Boston Bruins at the end of the 2012-13 season. However, apart from Thursday night’s loss not being as fatal, this is an entirely different team with more overall talent.
However, it doesn’t matter how much talent the Leafs have (and it’s a lot). The response will tell you everything you need to know about their toughness and desire.
Further, you could even argue that the Leafs will be playing for their collective future in Toronto. Certainly, being eliminated by a less talented but more disciplined Blue Jackets team would raise serious questions about if this particular core roster is capable of being a genuine Stanley Cup contender.