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KOSHAN: Stunning comeback leads Leafs to overtime win on goal by Matthews

Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his game winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets' with teammates William Nylander (88) and Kasperi Kapanen (24) during overtime NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Toronto on Friday, August 7, 2020.
Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his game winning goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets' with teammates William Nylander (88) and Kasperi Kapanen (24) during overtime NHL Eastern Conference Stanley Cup playoff action in Toronto on Friday, August 7, 2020.

So the Maple Leafs have heart.

And plenty of it, apparently.

Don’t blame us if we had started to wonder.

After all, this club can look great on paper, but not always so on the ice.

They reversed their post-season fortunes completely on Friday night.

The Leafs mounted a stunning rally at Scotiabank Arena, erasing a 3-0 Columbus Blue Jackets lead late in the third period to win 4-3 in overtime and force a deciding Game 5 of the qualifying round on Sunday at 8 p.m.

Auston Matthews scored the Game 4 winner at 13:10 of the extra period to tie the best-of-five series 2-2. With Nick Foligno serving a tripping minor, Matthews took a pass from John Tavares and ripped a shot past Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins.

“I don’t really know what to feel in the moment, to be honest,” Matthews said of his winner. “I think your mind goes blank.

“It’s a credit to every single guy on our team for just sticking with it for battling back and just not quitting.

“Down 3-0 with just a few minutes left, I think that’s a testament to each guy in this locker room. Everybody should be extremely proud of each other.”

And this from Leafs veteran Jason Spezza on the shocking comeback: “I’ve never been part of anything like that. With the firepower we have, we are never out of it. There’s a great sense of belief in our group. We stuck with it and got some big goals by some big players.”

The winner came on the Leafs’ 53rd shot of the game. The Leafs got the power play when Foligno tripped Morgan Rielly deep in the Toronto end.

From the Columbus bench, we could hear coach John Tortorella yell when the penalty was called: “No way! Are you f—ing kidding me!?”

Said Tortorella about his team’s collapse: “I’m not going to explain it.”

Tortorella said he had no update on defenceman Zach Werenski, who did not play after the midway point of the third period.

Toronto appeared to be toast as Merzlikins shut the door through two periods, with Columbus building a two-goal lead with contributions from Cam Atkinson and Vladislav Gavrikov.

And that became a three-goal lead when Boone Jenner scored at 14:18 of the third.

But goals by William Nylander, Tavares and Zach Hyman in the final four minutes tied the game.

All of the Leafs’ three goals in the rally came with goalie Frederik Andersen on the bench in favour of an extra skater. Hyman tied the game at 19:37 when he slid a low shot past Merzlikins after taking a pass from Matthews.

Mitch Marner and Matthews each had two assists in the final minutes of regulation.

The Leafs’ big four of Tavares, Matthews, Marner and Nylander had a total of seven points in the series before the third period. In the third and overtime, the four put up a total of 10 points.

Nylander got the uprising going at 16:03 when he jammed the puck into the net from a scramble; at 16:54, Tavares scored from the slot.

“Just the resilience of our team,” coach Sheldon Keefe said when he was asked what he will remember most about the comeback. “And how it put new life in our group. It was pretty remarkable to be a part of it.

“I think we played a good game. We don’t like we got behind early, it’s a much more difficult team to play against when you’re behind. It was a tough road for us.

“It wasn’t perfect, but our guys played really hard. It was nice to see them get rewarded.”

Not even in the world of the coronavirus pandemic, with daily life upended and upheaval everywhere, however, can the Leafs break from the norm.

As general manager Kyle Dubas said at the trade deadline in February, the Leafs are a Jekyll and Hyde group.

The Leafs were bad in an overtime loss in Game 3 on Thursday after they dominated in a shutout win in Game 2.

On Friday night, they packed both sides of themselves into one game, and for another two days at least, bubble life will continue.

Facing elimination, Keefe shifted some people around.

Tavares, Matthews and Marner were put together and got production going late in regulation.

Nick Robertson initially was moved up to the second line to play with Tavares and Nylander; Ilya Mikheyev, who hasn’t been able to translate a strong camp into offence, was dropped to the third line with Alex Kerfoot and Kasperi Kapanen.

On the blue line, Martin Marincin was paired with Justin Holl, while Travis Dermott skated alongside Tyson Barrie.

For the first time in the series, the Leafs gave up a goal in the first period, as Columbus took a 1-0 lead at 3:58.

Atkinson beat Andersen after taking a pass from Game 3 hero Pierre-Luc Dubois on an odd-man rush.

The Leafs got nothing on Merzlikins in the opening 20 chances, though they did have chances. Robertson and Pierre Engvall were among those stopped on the doorstep as Merzlikins made 15 saves in the first period. Columbus had 13 shots on Andersen in the first.

Gavrikov made it 2-0 at 4:40 of the second when his shot was deflected by Marner and up over Andersen’s left shoulder.

A fight involving Spezza and the Jackets’ Dean Kukan in the second period brought respect from the Leafs bench. The fourth line of Engvall between Kyle Clifford and Spezza had a strong night.

“Jason Spezza just did not want our season to end,” Keefe said of his 37-year-old fourth-liner. “You see the fight, that’s playoff hockey.

“We have new life here now. We were getting CPR there for a little bit, and we found our way back, and here we go.”

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020

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