The Stanley Cup Qualifying Round finished up yesterday as the Columbus Blue Jackets took on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a winner take all Game 5. Normally, playoff series are a best of seven and not a best of five, the two exceptions to that statement are the League Division Series for the MLB playoffs and the WNBA semifinals and Finals. The reason the NHL did this is because of the finicky nature of sports and the coronavirus.
The league ended the regular season in mid-March when the playoff races were just starting to heat up, so the NHL decided to have the top four teams from the two conferences participate in round-robin style where each team would play each other to determine the seeding. For example, in the Eastern Conference, it was the Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, Boston Bruins and the Tampa Bay Lightning. So, the Flyers played the Bruins, then the Capitals and finished things off with the Lightning. Meanwhile, the other teams who went into the bubble, the COVID-19 free zone, were matched up in qualifying series to determine what the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs would look like. The Eastern Conference playoffs would take place at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, Ontario and the Western Conference playoffs would take place at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Alberta.
One of these matchups was the ninth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets vs the eighth-seeded Toronto Maple Leafs. The Jackets took Game One in shutout style by defeating the Leafs 2-0. Toronto returned the favor in Game Two by shutting out Columbus 3-0. In Game Three, the Leafs were holding a 3-0 lead but they could not hold onto it as CBJ was able to rally and grab the 4-3 victory. In Game Four, it was the Jackets’ turn to lose a 3-0 lead as Toronto was able to come back and force overtime and then put in the game-winning goal forcing a winner-take-all Game Five.
On Sunday, August 9th 2020, the winner take all Game 5 between Columbus and Toronto went down from Scotiabank Arena in front of no spectators. The winner would qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and go against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Meanwhile, the loser would join a pool of teams where were either eliminated from the Qualifying Round or they were just really bad and all vying for the number one overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft. It will be the Blue Jackets who are qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs as CBJ shut out Toronto 3-0. Goalie Jonas Korpisalo stopped all 33 shots that came his way, and some of his saves were absolutely stunning. Zach Werenski opened the scoring for CBJ with an unassisted goal at 6:29 in the first period. This was followed by Jackets’ rookie Liam Foody putting one in the back of the net at 11:40 in the third period with the assists on the play going to Gustav Nyquist and Seth Jones. Finally, at 19:37 in the third period, Nick Foligno scored an unassisted and empty-net goal which all but shut the door in Toronto’s face. Setting up a rematch with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last season, the Lightning and Blue Jackets were matched up in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In just about every category, Tampa had a substantial advantage thus things were initially looking quite bleak for the Blue Jackets. On top of that, Tampa tied the record in NHL history for points with 62 while Columbus had to scratch and claw their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so again things looked rather stacked against CBJ. However, despite falling behind 3-0 at the end of the first period in Game One, Columbus was able to roar back and not only win Game One but also the next three games completing the sweep and advance to the second round for the first time in franchise history.