Toronto (35-25-9) vs Columbus (32-22-15)
Opening Odds: Toronto -220
The NHL announced earlier today that the two hub-cities that will host the 24-team playoff are coming down to a couple of Canadian towns. That’s great news for the Toronto Maple Leafs as their home building seems to be the front-runner for the Eastern Conference hub. The other one being Edmonton for the Western Conference.
The eighth-seeded Leafs will take on the No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-5 series with the date and city TBA. Toronto is a -220 favorite and that could go up if they are indeed the home team. There will be no fans in attendance, but still, having the comforts of your own city and building should give Toronto the edge. The teams split two regular-season meetings with the Leafs winning 4-1 in Columbus in the second game of the season and the Jackets won 4-3 in overtime just 17 days later.
Columbus finished the regular season 33-22-15 for 81 points and that would have been good enough for the No. 8 seed and a date with No. 1 Boston in the first round. The Jackets were the only team among the East’s Top 8 in points to finish with a negative goal differential (-7). Columbus was the eighth-seed last Spring when they knocked off the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in a historic first-round sweep.
Columbus ranked 27th in scoring (2.57) this season, but their strong goaltending and defense ranked them third defensively (2.61). The Blue Jackets’ two 26-year-old goalies, Joonas Korpisalo (19-12-5, 2.60 GAA, .911 SV) and rookie Elvis Merzlikins (13-9-8, 2.35 GAA, .923), saved this team.
Best-of-Five Series Price:
Toronto also finished with 81 points and third in the Atlantic Division. The Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since beating Ottawa in the first round 16 years ago. Wow. Toronto would have probably played Tampa Bay in the first round under the regular playoff format.
The Maple Leafs can score at-will and ranked third in the regular season at 3.39 goals per contest. Auston Matthews finished with 47 goals and 33 assists, while Mitch Marner recorded 51 assists in 57 games. Winger Andreas Johnsson (eight goals, 13 assists) had knee surgery in February and was set to miss the rest of the season, but could be ready when the playoffs start. Defenseman Jake Muzzin, who broke his hand in late-February, will also be ready to play. Toronto ranked 26th in goals allowed per game (3.17).
Toronto is expected to win this series, but the pressure is on to win a playoff series for the first time since 2004. We know Columbus can’t be counted out after the shocker they pulled off last postseason. I’ll take the dog.
Pick: Blue Jackets +180