To quote the incomparable Jim Halpert, what is going on?! This, this is what’s going on.
First, some context. Staked to a comfortable 3-0 lead Friday in Toronto (one of the NHL’s two “hub” cities for this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs), Columbus—still riding high from the previous night’s overtime triumph—was mere minutes away from punching its ticket to the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. It would be a demoralizing way to go out for the Maple Leafs, who blew a three-goal edge in Thursday’s defeat.
On the brink of elimination, the eighth-seeded Leafs kicked it into high gear, responding with three goals in the final 3:57 of regulation to force a sudden-death overtime period. William Nylander kept Toronto breathing with his second tally in as many nights, trickling one past Blue Jackets net-minder Elvis Merzlikins to begin the rally. Things got even more interesting when John Tavares went top-shelf for Toronto’s second goal in a 51-second span. The equalizer came courtesy of Zach Hyman, who lit the lamp with 22.2 seconds remaining. Former first overall pick Auston Matthews fed Hyman in front of the net for his second assist of the night.
A Nick Foligno tripping penalty with 13 minutes gone by in overtime put Toronto on the power-play. Not letting the man advantage go to waste, Matthews sealed it with a snipe from the faceoff circle, one-timing Tavares’ centering pass to put a bow on Toronto’s miracle 4-3 comeback.
Talk about an adrenaline rush. Friday’s compelling slate offered no shortage of drama with three of the six games requiring extra hockey. The takeaway from Columbus’ late-game collapse is that no lead is ever safe in the NHL’s chaotic postseason. The Jackets and Leafs will wage a decisive Game 5 Sunday night at 8 PM ET.