GAME 82: BLUE JACKETS VS. MAPLE LEAFS
AIR CANADA CENTRE, 6:00 P.M.
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO / FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: 97.1 & BLUEJACKETS.COM
The regular season ends on Sunday for the Blue Jackets as they head to Toronto to play the Maple Leafs for the third time this season.
With the playoffs looming, the Jackets want to win this game not so much for the points, or for any standings gains, but to show they are the team they know themselves to be.
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Columbus is riding a six-game skid in which they have given up 21 goals and scored just 11 times. Early in that span, they were searching for offensive production, but with players like Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Saad starting to get back to their game, the team now also faces the challenge of shoring up their defensive play to limit the chances they give their opponents.
Head coach John Tortorella knows that there's a human nature element to all this. He's coaching a young team where many of the players are still learning how to manage the stretch of games that comes after clinching a postseason appearance.
Video: John Tortorella talks about handling adversity
"We have to play the way we know we're capable of playing try to get a win," Cam Atkinson said. "(The Leafs) embarrassed us in our barn (last game). I know it's going to be a battle, so let's prove to them what kind of a team we are."
Here are five things to watch for:
For the Leafs, game 82 carries a bit more importance now, and not just in the name of pride.
In their third attempt to clinch a playoff spot, the Leafs finally punched their ticket to the post season with a 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night. The team currently holds the second wild card spot in the East, but if they beat the Jackets Sunday, they will move up to the first wild card spot and face Ottawa in the first round. Should they lose to the Jackets, Toronto's opening opponent will be the Washington Capitals.
Defense "putting out the fire."
After Sunday's loss in Philadelphia, Seth Jones talked about how the defense is responsible for "putting out the fire." It's something that came from a conversation with veteran teammate, Kyle Quincey. This defensive corps wants to be in control of not letting the times when things go wrong turn into goals.
"As a 'D' corp that's what we can control," Jones said. "We have to be able to keep the puck out of the net."
Leaf the scoring to Auston Matthews.
Everyone has surely heard of Leafs' rookie center Auston Matthews. According to datarink.com, in the last ten games, Matthews is second overall in goals scored with eight. With the goal and assist the American scored last night, Matthews became the first Toronto rookie, and the 15th in NHL history, to score 40 goals in one season.
The rubber match.
In two games this season, both matchups have ended in a 5-2 score with each of these two teams taking home a victory. Sunday will be the first time the series moves to Toronto, and whoever wins gains the advantage on the season over the other.
Carlsson back in.
In his NHL debut, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson played 19:15 and had two missed shot attempts. Jones called him a great skater, and Tortorella was so pleased with the Swede's performance he is already planning to play him again Sunday against Toronto.
"You can tell he wasn't timid," Tortorella said. "He tried to make a difference each shift. It's really encouraging as we enter into (the playoffs)."
Video: Gabriel Carlsson talks about his first NHL game
Getting back some Cam-sistency.
Cam Atkinson has 61 points this season and is second only to Sam Gagner in points-per-60 in all situations with 2.6 this year. But the right wing has only two goals in the last 11 games. They were both game winners. That's the kind of impact the Jackets' leading scorer can have on games when he's going.
Atkinson is a player that Tortorella has wanted to see re-discover his scoring touch heading into the playoffs. In the third period against the Flyers, Tortorella gave Atkinson just 1:33 of ice time and three shifts saying "The way the Cam was playing at that time wasn't helping him."
"I haven't been playing up to my standards so I see it," Atkinson said.
Video: Cam Atkinson talks about improvements after the loss
Projected Line Up:
Foligno - Dubinsky - Atkinson
Saad - Wennberg - Bjorkstrand
Hartnell - Jenner - Gagner
Calvert - Karlsson - Anderson
Carlsson - Jones
Johnson - Savard
Quincey - Nutivaara