Are we actually talking about the Leafs coming back from down three in an elimination game? Yes. Yes, we are.

It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t exactly how you’d draw up. Whatever. The Leafs live to fight another day. Clear your schedules on Sunday.

1.  I expected the Leafs to come out guns blazing and ready to redeem themselves. Instead, they were tentative, had no jump, and the opening goal was essentially a comedy of errors. Justin Holl was caught in no man’s land, there was no forward covering yet again, and the pass went through on the 2v1. The goal isn’t Martin Marincin’s fault, but we’ve said this so many times and everyone knows it’s hockey 101 – if you are the defender on the 2v1, your one job is to stop the pass. He didn’t, and Columbus took the lead.

2.  Not sure if you can say it is to their credit, but they did show some pushback after Columbus took the lead instead of crumbling. They had some resolve. Morgan Rielly got robbed, Pierre Engvall got robbed, Mitch Marner almost set up Zach Hyman with a play in front. The Leafs put 15 shots on net in the period and just couldn’t buy one, but they didn’t completely cave the second Columbus took the lead.

The Leafs did eventually get discouraged and you could sense as the game progressed that they really needed a lucky bounce or something to get a goal and gather some momentum. As we know now, eventually, they did.

4.  I thought the Leafs would still win this series even without Jake Muzzin because I figured it really came down to whether they could score enough. When he was signed to a four-year contract with a cap hit of $5.625 million per year, it was questioned a bit knowing he is aging; while that is true, there was just little chance they were going to improve an already weak unit by losing Muzzin — they’d have to replace him and add at least one more top-four defenseman.

The past few games were a bit of an example as to why. Most of the Leafs defensemen are offensive-minded and we saw them get caught consistently at the offensive blue line. When the games got tight, slower, and more physical, the Leafs left a lot to be desired. Muzzin is an important player, and they need at least one more like him on the backend.

5The Leafs’ fourth line was great tonight. They had a number of chances, drove the net hard, pinned Columbus in their zone, and were a general nuisance. It is a shame they were relegated to essentially nothing to start this series, which was something we called out immediately.

Last year, the Leafs were criticized for not playing their stars enough. It was nonsense then, and it is more so now. We even looked at it during this season and noted how championships team don’t run their top players ragged with ice time — they have actual depth and use it. It was smoke and mirrors to load up the top forwards with all the ice time they want and completely neuter the rest of the roster in the process. That is how peewee teams operate when they have a star player that can go end-to-end at will, but this isn’t the league to do that in.

The Leafs made it 3-2 with three minutes left and the season on the line, and the fourth line went on next — which is fine because they had a great game. Prior to this game, they couldn’t be trusted to handle even 10 minutes a night? It was great to see the Leafs mix up the lines and actually semi-roll them. This is how they need to operate.

6.  I would be remiss if I did not write about Jason Spezza specifically in a point. The Leafs had next to nothing and the veteran, playing in what could have been his last game as a professional hockey player, showed a little emotion. It was actually the 10th fight of his career and the first since 2018.

The Leafs were showing almost no signs of life or emotion. It was just not possible to be watching the whole game live up until that point and not think that Spezza was trying to fire up the team. They killed his penalty, they did have chances after (and couldn’t score), and eventually, somehow, they tied the game. Spezza has never been my kind of player (the king of no-look drop passes at the offensive blue line in his prime), but that was really something by him.

7.  Credit to Columbus for the way they crashed the net. The Leafs have progressively collapsed more and more as the series went on and their second goal tonight was a great example. The Leafs were barely challenging the point and Mitch Marner was not even remotely square. The Leafs, conversely, barely crashed the net for rebound goals for a lot of the game – Columbus won almost all those battles in front. When the Leafs did start winning those battles in the final few minutes, what do you know? They started scoring.

8.  We talked about William Nylander in front of the net after Game 3 and here we are again with him scoring from there in Game 4. Nylander simply was not going to get on the top power-play unit unless he figured out other areas to play. He put up his first 30-goal season this year (31 actually), and he did almost all of his damage in front of the net cashing in on plays. Years ago, a player named Nazem Kadri changed his game up a bit to be more around the crease and bang in pucks the same way.

9.  After a line of Tavares – Matthews – Marner was united to spark the team, Tavares generated a great chance immediately. Using this line full-time was a game-changer and they need to do it more, no question. Alex Kerfoot is just not a real top-six forward and Keefe knows it, so he came back with what played out as Hyman – Kapanen – Nylander (who did have a scoring chance, in fairness).

Ilya Mikheyev has been underwhelming and got demoted in those line shuffles; he simply hasn’t been noticeable. I feel inclined to give him a break coming back from the injury that he had, but it is disappointing nonetheless.

10.  Zach Hyman was huge on two of the goals at the end of the third – he obviously scored the one and he set up Nylander for the first one. Remember how, at the start of this series, he wasn’t even playing on the second power-play unit? We wrote about it here. I know he’s not the most skilled and he doesn’t have the best hands or the best shot, but he’s a smart player that knows how to play the game and he makes positive things happen. With the season on the line, he was called upon and stepped up. Last year against Boston, he was one of their best players as well.

Oh, and Morgan Rielly on the top power-play unit forever and ever. That’s the 11th point.

Game Flow: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4

Heat Map: 5v5 Shot Attempts

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, Game 4

Game Highlights: Leafs 4 vs. Blue Jackets 3 (OT)