The Toronto Maple Leafs have just one game to push themselves into the playoffs proper and a good start is an absolute must to have any hopes of success.
It took the Toronto Maple Leafs over 55 minutes to get on the board in their shock 4-3 overtime victory against the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Four of their qualifying series, something that must be addressed in the winner-take-all Game Five.
The Leafs have one of the most expensive top-six forward lineups in the entire NHL and have players considered to be legitimate superstars in the world of hockey, with Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner leading the way.
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However, this group has found it difficult to break through the tough defensive unit of the Blue Jackets, needing a four-minute rush at the end of the third period to claw back from a 3-0 deficit, with Matthews ultimately giving his team the victory with an excellent wrist shot in overtime.
Something like that is extremely rare and is nowhere near the norm in hockey; the Leafs cannot afford to have a slow start against John Tortorella’s Columbus when Game Five gets underway.
The final qualifying round series will be decided once and for all on Sunday night and the Leafs need to make a statement of intent and enter the game with a gung ho mentality, using their extremely talented offensive corps to its full potential to give them a chance of taking a lead early.
Allowing the Blue Jackets to get chances off, while sporting one of the stingiest defences in the league, is a recipe for disaster for the Leafs, who have been extremely inconsistent throughout this series, sharing shut-outs with their opponents and then sharing shock 4-3 OT reverses.
Now, it is one game, one result for either team and if the Leafs have any hope of progressing into the first round and overcoming their post-season struggles of the past few years, then they must get stuck in from the very first puck drop.
It is unacceptable that a team with this much offensive talent has struggled to put this series to bed and some serious changes will be on the way if they fall to Columbus in Game Five.
Players and coaches will be on the hot seat and their jobs will be at stake if the Leafs cannot progress past the first stage of the postseason, for what would be the fourth consecutive year.
This shouldn’t even be a concern for the team which looked full of energy and a true offensive threat entering the 24-team post-season.
However, this is the position the Leafs have put themselves in and it is up to them to get things right and show the same kind of passion and ability as they did in those dying minutes of regulation on Friday night.