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Five Takeaways - Leafs vs. Blue Jackets - 04/09/17

Here are five takeaways from the Maple Leafs' 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday at Air Canada Centre:

by Adam Proteau / MapleLeafs.com

1. Leafs out-chance Jackets in opening period, but neither side gets on scoreboard in first 20 minutes. The Leafs secured a playoff berth in Saturday's thrilling 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but a win or overtime loss Sunday would put them in a first-round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators rather than a showdown against the first-place Washington Capitals. And Toronto began the game against Columbus as if that's what they intended to do: the Buds outshot the Jackets 12-6 in the first period and nearly got the game's first goal a number of times.

However, Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo managed to turn aside all of Toronto's shots in the opening frame, and Toronto counterpart Curtis McElhinney stopped all six of the visiting team's shots, so the teams entered the first intermission locked in a 0-0 tie.

Video: CBJ@TOR: van Riemsdyk finds twine on wrister

2. van Riemsdyk continues hot streak, nets pair of second-period goals to put Leafs ahead by two. After playing a first period that was tepid at best for them, Columbus started the second with more determination, outshooting Toronto 7-2 to start the frame and forcing the Leafs into their first minor penalty of the night. But the Jackets failed to make their power play count, and shortly thereafter, one of the Buds' hotter offensive contributors - winger James van Riemsdyk - influenced the game in a major way.

van Riemsdyk, who scored in the win over Pittsburgh and who had four goals in his past six games heading into Sunday's action, scored his 28th of the year at 2:03 of the second to make it 1-0 for Toronto. Four minutes and 33 seconds later, van Riemsdyk netted his second of the evening on a nearly identical drive down the wing, and the Leafs were ahead by two goals. His offensive production Sunday gave van Riemsdyk 62 points on the season, setting a new career-best in that department, and it gave the Leafs some breathing room on the scoreboard.

3. Jackets answer back with three goals to take lead heading into third frame. Despite van Riemsdyk's goals, the Blue Jackets gained momentum as the second period continued on, and the Leafs - who were without the services of blueliners Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak, both of whom left the game in the period - were on their heels much of the time. As a result, Columbus scored three times in less than seven minutes (via goals from Matt Calvert at the 12:32 mark, Josh Anderson at 17:16 and a shorthanded marker from Cam Atkinson at 19:20) and headed into the third period with the lead.

The Jackets outshot the Leafs 20-9 in the second, and Toronto became more tentative and less structured as the second intermission approached. But they still had another 20 minutes of play to turn things around.

4. Despite third-period push, Leafs can't send game to overtime. The Leafs got Polak back in the third period, but Zaitsev did not return after suffering an upper-body injury, so Toronto was down to five defencemen. But McElhinney didn't allow any more pucks past him, and the Buds had a shot at tying things up and sending the game to overtime.

Unfortunately for Leafs Nation - and despite head coach Mike Babcock pulling McElhinney for the extra man late in the game - Toronto couldn't produce any more offence, and Korpisalo stopped all 11 shots he saw in the frame to preserve the win for the visitors.
 
5. Leafs end regular season, turn attention to first-round opponents in Washington. The defeat Sunday put Toronto in the final wild card berth in the Eastern Conference and set up a first-round series against the Capitals that will start later this week. The Leafs were 1-1-1 against the Capitals in the regular season, but their most recent meeting was a 4-1 defeat April 4, and the Buds were not at their best in that contest.

That said, the Leafs have exceeded the expectations of many pundits, and with a few days off to practice and perhaps get some players back in the lineup, it would be foolish to presume they don't have a chance against Washington. But it will take nothing less than a smart, patient, disciplined approach to knock off the league's best regular-season club, and Toronto's players are fully aware they'll have to raise their game to move on to the second round of the post-season.

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