Jackets aim to keep building against high-flying Leafs
TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are rolling to the playoffs, while the Columbus Blue Jackets would like go on a roll that would put them in the postseason.
While the Blue Jackets defeated the New York Islanders 4-1 on Tuesday in a game with implications in the playoff race, the Maple Leafs had a day off on the schedule as they awaited their game against Columbus on Wednesday night at the Air Canada Centre.
The Blue Jackets (29-23-4) have won two in a row for the first time since Jan. 7-8 and are 4-5-1 in their past 10 games. They are one point out of the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"I just want us to keep building," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "They should feel good about the last couple of games. Actually, they should feel good about the last five or six games."
Columbus had a season-high 51 shots against the Islanders and have 218 on goal over their past five games.
"When you're shooting, it gets you in an attack mentality," Columbus left winger Nick Foligno said. "And it's helped our team. It gives you a singular focus ... and it's got to continue, if not more. Let's throw 60 shots on net and see what happens."
The Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic Division, defeated the Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 on Monday night despite blowing a 3-0 lead, allowing two goals in the first 1:18 of the third period.
"I think it's huge that we were able to bounce back," said William Nylander who had two goals and assist Monday. "We came out there a little slow there in the beginning (of the third period) and that's what we'll have to work on, but it's huge that we were able to bounce back like that for sure."
The Maple Leafs (34-19-5) have won four in a row and eight of their past nine to climb within six points of first-place Tampa Bay in the division.
"Obviously, we're a way better team than last year," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "We play better each night because we have to because the opponent plays way better against us. I don't know what our record was last year relative to this year, I don't know any of that, I just know we have to play better each night because we play a team that's prepared for us and playing hard.
"We've come a long way that way, but we're on a journey and we've got a long way to go. By no means are we a poised, veteran group who does it right. We still have these emotional swings in the game because we get off-track. In saying all that, they're the best team in hockey and I thought we can skate and play with anybody."
The game against the Lightning could be used as a measuring stick.
"Of course, you want to play your best against the best teams," Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen said. "These are fun games to be a part of and obviously it's great coming out with two points.
"I think we're skating, I think we're playing our game and coming back (on defense). Especially in the first period, we were coming back and pressuring them from behind when they had the puck coming into our end. Everyone knows when we play fast and skate a lot we move the puck quick. That's our strength."
Andersen can expect a busy night against the Blue Jackets if they continue their shooting ways.
Tortorella said the team has concentrated on taking an abundance of shots in an attempt to give the team "some consistency scoring goals" and to help with the forecheck.
"The way teams shut down shooting lanes and block shots in this league now, if you're not anticipating you're going to shoot the puck before it comes to you, that split-second, it's blocked," Tortorella said.
Blue Jackets left winger Sonny Milano and defenseman Ryan Murray are close to a return from injuries and made the trip with the team but did not play Tuesday. Milano has been out since suffering an oblique injury in Toronto on Jan. 8. Murray has been out since late November with what is believed to be a back injury.
Tortorella said it is a league of parity, so he said he feels it is a good idea to stay on an even keel during the ups and downs of the playoff race.
"You have a good week and you're up there sniffing," he said after the game Tuesday. "You have a bad week and you're looking way up. We're going to keep taking this one game at a time."
The Blue Jackets have defeated the Maple Leafs in both meetings this season, 3-2 in overtime at the ACC on Jan. 8 and 4-2 on Dec. 20 at Columbus.
Updated February 14, 2018