When Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella appeared to tear a strip off Pierre-Luc Dubois during Game Two of their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the motivational aftermath was not yet known.
But when Dubois scored a hat trick in Game Three and gave his club a 2-1 series lead thanks to a 4-3 victory in overtime, it was apparent that something lit a fire under the forward.
Whether it was the repeated reports that Dubois was “still learning playoff hockey” or the drubbing from his head coach, the centre took to Game Three with a mission and got the job done – even when his team was down 3-0 to the Maple Leafs.
Tortorella seemed to see the writing on the wall but didn’t quit, sending goalie Elvis Merzlikins to the rescue after pulling Joonas Korpisalo. It was a stunning reversal of fortune for the Finnish netminder, as he’d been very impressive prior to the breakdown.
“It gave us a chance to catch our breath,” Tortorella said of swapping netminders. “I think that’s one of the biggest things. We needed to stop and slow it down it down a little bit because it was getting away from us.”
After the arrival of Merzlikins, the Blue Jackets got things under control.
Dubois scored with 8:21 left in the second and it was all Columbus for the final frame. He scored twice more to complete the hat trick, the first playoff hat trick in franchise history, while Seth Jones had the other Blue Jackets goal.
Merzlikins stopped all 21 Toronto shots he faced, which definitely helped the cause.
So now the Maple Leafs find themselves in a must-win situation in the best-of-five series and have less than 24 hours to get their stuff together. They’ll face Columbus in Game Four on Friday.
Is there a plan?
“Just erase it,” Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said. “I mean we’re a team that has bounced back all year when things didn’t go our way. The boys showed up the next day and played our hearts out. We’ve got to refocus and get ready.”