The Toronto Maple Leafs were about to see their season end against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but a furious, stunning rally forced Sunday's decisive Game 5 in this playoff qualifier series.
After the Jackets went up 3-0 late in the third period, Toronto stormed back with three goals to force overtime, and superstar Auston Matthews netted the Game 4 winner on a power play.
Will the Leafs join Edmonton as the second hub host to bow out, or can they keep their momentum going? In abe Insights' preview, we'll get you ready for Sunday's amazing matchup with the best odds possible, relevant stats and analysis of how the wagers should trend.
Date: Sunday, August 9
Time: 8 p.m. ET
Implied Probabilities: Blue Jackets 40%; Maple Leafs 61%
Spread: CBJ +1.5 (-185); TOR -1.5 (+180)
Moneyline: CBJ +150; TOR -155
After first-year Columbus goalkeeper Elvis Merzlikins fell apart late in Game 4, he'll in all likelihood cede the crease to Joonas Korpisalo, who's his postseason debut this year. Although Korpisalo played well in two prior starts, he got yanked in Game 3 after yielding three goals on 15 shots, so he has some psychological scar tissue to fight through as well.
Given that All-Star Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski is questionable after an MRI for an upper body injury, it seems the Leafs will be at less of a disadvantage on defense than they'd normally be versus a stout Columbus club, especially with a more experienced veteran in Frederik Andersen between the pipes.
-.316 vs. -.179: Speaking of Andersen, he posted the third-best rebounds above expected percentage in the NHL among goalies with 30-plus starts in 2019-20. Korpisalo was sixth in this category, so both teams will be hard-pressed to throw pucks on net and expect second-chance opportunities.
16.7 vs. 0.0: Although the Leafs haven't been world beaters on the power play this postseason, Matthews' OT breakthrough in Game 4 got Toronto to 2-for-12 overall. Not only has Columbus failed on as many attempts, but the Jackets have also let in a shorthanded goal. That unit must at least create quality scoring chances in Game 5.
2.95 vs. 2.21: The Maple Leafs were among the league leaders goal production, yet their production fell on a per-game basis (2.95) after the All-Star break, ranking tied for 13th. However, Columbus' total was second-worst among all clubs.
Jackets leading goal scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand has been quiet this series, failing to register a point in four contests. It's clear he still has some rust to knock off after missing 31 games in the regular season and recovering from an ankle injury, but no time like the present to get back on track.
It certainly appeared as though Columbus' superior defense would get the better of Matthews and the Leafs. Before Toronto's former No. 1 overall pick staged his heroics, he set up the last two goals of regulation with assists. All-Star John Tavares scored the second, and another young prodigy, Mitch Marner, fed dimes on three of the four goals.
Whatever happened to the CBJ defense down the stretch must be fixed. One bit of good news despite the epic collapse: coach John Tortorella knows from last year how to overcome seemingly impossible odds and momentum stacked against them. Given no chance prior to the series, they swept the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning out of the first round in 2019.
Oh, here's the best bit for some added fuel on Columbus' side: a victory on Sunday would mean a rematch with the Lightning in the Round of 16.
While it'd be fun to see the modern Leafs build their own legend with one of the more improbable comebacks in recent postseason memory, who wouldn't want to see Jackets-Bolts Part II?
When it comes to betting the puck line and outright winner, the prior information is worth taking into account, as are the following narrative possibilities...
Does Toronto have a letdown after the thrill of such a crazy Game 4 win? Or, does Columbus get jacked up at the possibility of facing Tampa Bay again, draw on those 2019 vibes, and revert to its elite defensive form that posted a shutout through 56 minutes of Friday's meeting?
A compelling argument can be made for both sides. given the intensity and the slim margin for error, both clubs should, in theory, be more conservative, which will probably push goal total bets toward the Under side.
There's a clear hedge strategy in play here, too: the Blue Jackets moneyline is a strong value, and the Leafs' spread is nearly a 2-to-1 payout.
Note: Odds current as of 11:35 a.m. ET on Sunday, August 9.
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