Jackets snap 6-game skid in regular season finale, open playoffs at Pittsburgh on Wed.
Maple Leafs drop finale, will face Capitals in first round
TORONTO (AP) — There will be no Battle of Ontario in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
James van Riemsdyk scored twice, but the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their regular-season finale 3-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night and will face the Washington Capitals in the opening round of their first postseason since 2013.
"We've drawn a real good team and we're going to find out what playoff hockey is in a hurry," coach Mike Babcock said. "We're going to find out that it's way different than regular-season hockey."
Nine Leafs are likely to make their postseason debuts in Game 1, including the high-performing rookie trio of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander. Another handful, including Jake Gardiner, Nazem Kadri and Tyler Bozak have just a single playoff series under their belts, that one coming during the Leafs last playoff appearance in 2013.
Babcock, perhaps not surprisingly, plans to spend lots of time before Thursday's opener in D.C. detailing for his group what exactly is different about playoff hockey.
"They're not going to believe me and then it's going to happen," he said.
"No space. Zero. Battle for every inch of ice, from the opening faceoff to the end," said Babcock, who's coached 144 playoff games in the NHL.
The upstart Blue Jackets are also getting ready for a postseason series. They'll face the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1.
"I am sure they're going to be ready to play," Columbus coach John Tortorella said of his team. "What the result's going to be, I don't know, but this team's going to have some fun. Now it's time to have some fun and just let them go and play."
Curtis McElhinney made 29 saves, but Toronto let a 2-0 lead melt away in a porous second period.
Matt Calvert, Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson scored in the comeback for Columbus. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 30 shots for the Jackets, who are set for a first-round matchup against Pittsburgh.
Had they earned even a point, the Leafs would have faced the Ottawa Senators in the first round, but instead they get the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals.
Toronto has never faced Washington in the postseason — the two teams were in different conferences for a long stretch — and they'll be heavy underdogs the first time around. The Capitals had the NHL's best regular-season record for the second straight season, and they're loaded at every position as they bid for a first Stanley Cup.
The Leafs went 1-1-1 against the Caps in the regular season.
Asked about pressure on his young team heading into the playoffs on Sunday morning, Leafs coach Mike Babcock deflected with apparent aim at the Capitals.
"You have nerves when you win the Presidents' Trophy and you're playing a real good team in the first round," Babcock said. "That's when it's a totally different program though. We're so far away from that program though. We've got two years left before that happens."
No. 1 goalie Frederik Andersen sat out Sunday after exiting a playoff-clinching win against Pittsburgh on Saturday following a hit to the head. Babcock said Andersen showed no concussion symptoms and would be ready for the start of the postseason.
The Leafs had an extra bounce to their step early against Columbus, fresh off the clinching victory over Pittsburgh. They took it to the reeling Jackets (losers of six straight coming in), holding them without a shot for the first 10-plus minutes.
The Leafs got on the board early in the second when van Riemsdyk scored the first of his two goals on the night. He added his second goal and 28th this season during a 2-on-1 rush with Mitch Marner.
The Jackets charged back with three goals in less than seven minutes. Calvert got the first with a weak backhand between McElhinney's pads, Anderson followed up off the rush and Atkinson got the go-ahead marker short-handed.
NOTES: Toronto rookie D Nikita Zaitsev left in the first period after a hit from Nick Foligno into the end boards. Zaitsev returned briefly before missing the rest of the game with an upper-body injury. He set a Leafs rookie record for minutes this season.
Blue Jackets: Get the Penguins in the first round.
Maple Leafs: Prepare for Washington in Round 1.