I have a simple message for Toronto Maple Leafs fans — take a deep breath.
After losing Game 1 of their best-of-five NHL playoff qualifier 2-0 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night, many of Toronto’s fans are already getting themselves in position to abandon ship and call it a series.
Read more: Blue Jackets down Maple Leafs in Game 1
Now, on one hand, I can’t blame those fans for thinking that way given this team’s playoff stumbles over the last handful of years.
But Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena was a virtual toss-up.
Scoreless through two periods, both teams had their opportunities to put the puck in the net, but Toronto’s Frederik Andersen and Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo were very good between the pipes, making 33 and 28 saves, respectively.
🗨️ We have to find a way to break them down, get quality looks, second and third opportunities and finish on some of our chances.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) August 3, 2020
Game 2 will be waged on Tuesday night, and the Maple Leafs are expected to show a little bit more determination and come flying out of the gate, so the first 10 minutes of the hockey game will be vitally important for both teams.
That brings me to the key to this series — the first goal of the game.
Scoring the first goal is massive for each team because it plays to their strengths and dictates how the rest of the game will flow.
The Leafs and Jackets each won 24 games when scoring first during the 2019-20 regular season, and wouldn’t you know it, each team lost only five times when they opened the scoring in a game.
If Columbus scores first, they can do what they do best, focus on their defence-first mindset and concentrate on shutting down Toronto’s highly skilled top six forwards.
But a first tally for Toronto would force the Blue Jackets to open up their style and potentially expose themselves defensively to a Maple Leafs’ counter-attack.
Game 1 offered up a great chess match over the first two periods and the team that scores first Tuesday night may again end up winning.
Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.