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Leafs blank Blue Jackets in Game 2 to even their series

Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal with teammates Justin Holl (3) and Zach Hyman after scoring against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period of their NHL Eastern Conference play-in game on Tuesday.
Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) celebrates his goal with teammates Justin Holl (3) and Zach Hyman after scoring against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second period of their NHL Eastern Conference play-in game on Tuesday.

Silent stars no more.

Not for the Maple Leafs in Game 2 of the best-of-five qualifying series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Shut out in Game 1 by Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo, and with an impatient fan base wringing its hands at the thought of another early post-season exit, the Leafs got goals from Auston Matthews and captain John Tavares in a textbook victory on Tuesday, beating the Jackets 3-0 at Scotiabank Arena.

The win should have had the Leafs heading back to their Royal York bubble in a celebratory mood. A scary incident involving veteran defenceman Jake Muzzin with under two minutes remaining made that impossible.

After taking a cross-check to the back from Columbus forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, Muzzin fell to ice and slid headfirst into the back of the Jackets’ Oliver Bjorkstrand. Muzzin eventually was taken off the ice on a stretcher and to hospital. The Leafs said he was alert and able to move all of his limbs, with further updates to be provided.

Count on seeing Martin Marincin or Rasmus Sandin in Game 3 on Thursday.

“All signs are very positive, being around (Muzzin) and it was nice to close it out for him,” Tavares said. “But certainly tough to see, especially just how much we love that guy.”

Until that happened, everything was rosy for Toronto. Frederik Andersen had to make just 20 saves for the shutout as his teammates were vastly better at both ends of the ice than they were in the series opener.

Now consider this: Teams that win Game 3 in an NHL best-of-five after splitting the first two games have gone on to win 21 of 28 series (.750). Not that we needed to stress that the match on Thursday — at 8 p.m., the NHL announced — will be large.

We were getting the feeling that the Leafs might not score  when Matthews re-directed a Zach Hyman pass behind Korpisalo at the 16-minute mark of the second. The goal came on the Leafs’ 28th shot, equalling their output in Game 1.

The relief was evident as the Leafs celebrated with Hall & Oates’ You Make My Dreams reverberating in the empty building.

Not long after the Matthews goal, Andersen made a couple of bang-bang saves on Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski while the teams were playing four on four.

Tavares scored on a breakaway at 4:56 of the third, the goal coming on his eighth shot of the game. Morgan Rielly scored into an empty net in the final minute.

The Leafs had 39 shots on goal, bursting the bubble that had been the Jackets’ defensive structure in Game 1. The Leafs got inside for better chances more than they did in the opener, and will have to come with something similar in Game 3.

“We were quicker, and not just necessarily the way we were moving our feet,” Tavares said. “Our execution, the way we moved the puck, I thought our D did a great job of handling their forecheck. As forwards we were in synch, reading off each other and doing a good job of getting pucks in behind and getting on the inside.”

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe made some changes to his lines, putting Mitch Marner, who did not have a shot on goal in Game 1, on the right side with Matthews and Hyman. William Nylander took Marner’s spot on the right on a line with Tavares and Ilya Mikheyev.

Keefe also inserted Pierre Engvall on the fourth line and took Frederik Gauthier out. The move instantly gave the trio more speed.

The changes brought just about everything Keefe might have wanted in the opening 20 minutes, except a goal.

There was no letdown from Toronto after failing to score in the series opener, and the Leafs’ determination was evident from the opening faceoff. A big hit by Kyle Clifford on Jackets defenceman Dean Kukan, who left the game but returned later in the period, helped serve notice that the Leafs’ minds were in it.

“Every game is going to be slightly different,” Keefe said. “I thought we forechecked really hard from the start of the game and some loose pucks became available and gave us an extra opportunity to attack the net.

“That was a good sign for us. Out guys brought it to another level from a competitive standpoint and that really helped us in all regards.”

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