Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Playoffs Opening Round Free Pick & Predictions

The Eastern Conference converges on Toronto for the resumption of the NHL season. The host Maple Leafs are the No. 8 seed in the conference and will face the ninth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-five opening round series. These two teams both finished the season on 81 points in 70 games with Toronto earning the higher seed with 36 wins. It’s been a little more than nine months since these two teams last met with both games of the season series coming in October. The first game of the series is scheduled for Sunday at 8 p.m. EST with a potential Game 5 set for Aug. 9.

Free Picks & Predictions

Columbus is in the postseason for the fourth straight year and won a playoffs series for the first time in franchise history last season. The Blue Jackets were one of the surprises of this season after their top scorer and starting goalie left in free agency last offseason.  It’s been a team effort this year with no 50-point scorer on the team but six with 30-49 points and eight with 10 goals.

The Blue Jackets have also had to split time equally between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins in goal. As a result, it’s unclear which of the two will start for Columbus in the postseason and there really isn’t a favorite between the two either. Either way, the Blue Jackets’ defense has allowed less than 30 shots per game, the seventh-fewest total in the league.

Whoever is in goal for Columbus will need to slow down the talented quartet of forwards the Maple Leafs deploy. Auston Matthews was on pace for his first career 50-goal season, Mitch Marner already eclipsed 50 assists and 65 points in just 59 games while John Tavares and William Nylander both had at least 25 goals and 25 assists this year.

But what the Maple Leafs have in offensive talent, they lack in defending. Toronto allowed the seventh-most goals in the NHL this season and had the 21st-ranked penalty kill in the league. The back end has always hurt Toronto in the playoffs, and this group of defensemen don’t inspire much confidence, either.

Toronto is the betting favorite on the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, but that’s not the way to go on this one. The Blue Jackets found a way to stifle an offensive juggernaut in Tampa last year for a surprise sweep, and this year’s Maple Leafs squad is far worse than the Lightning. It’s the Maple Leafs, so this series will go the maximum five games, but the best bet is to double down on the Blue Jackets to not only win the series at +140 but do so in five games at +500 odds.

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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

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