How Do Opening Round NHL Playoff Qualifying Series Work?
Now one day away, NHL action returns with three days of exhibition games prior to the start of the playoffs on August 1, 2020. The postseason has been expanded, from 16 to 24 teams, to compensate clubs that were just outside the playoff bubble when the season was paused on March 12. The top four teams in each conference received an automatic entry into the quarterfinals. Those teams are playing two round robin series to establish second round seeding.
Boston, Tampa Bay, Washington and Philadelphia finished as the top four teams in the Eastern Conference standings. The remaining eight teams in the East are playing four qualifying playoff series with the winner’s advancing to the quarterfinals. First round series are best-of five sets and all games will be played at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto. Based on regular season win percentages, Toronto is the No. 8 seed in the East and Columbus is the No. 9 seed.
Toronto vs. Columbus Qualifying Series Schedule
Game 1 – Sunday, Aug 2: Columbus @ Toronto 8:00 PM ET
Game 2 - Tuesday, Aug 4: Columbus @ Toronto 4:00 PM ET
Game 3 - Thursday, Aug 6: Toronto @ Columbus Time TBD
Game 4 - Friday, Aug 7: Toronto @ Columbus Time TBD *
Game 5 - Sunday, Aug 9: Columbus @ Toronto Time TBD *
* If Necessary
Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Toronto Maple Leafs Series Preview
Columbus (33-22-15) had 81 points and was tied with Toronto and Carolina for sixth overall in the Eastern Conference when the regular season was paused. The Blue Jackets and Hurricanes finished tied in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division standings. Columbus and Toronto both had a .579 win percentage during the regular season. However, the Maple Leafs finished one seed ahead of the Blue Jackets based on three more regulation time wins.
After being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs, during the last three seasons, the Maple Leafs are making a fourth straight postseason appearance. Toronto (36-25-9) finished third overall in the Atlantic Division. After earning just two playoff berths, during their first 15 seasons, Columbus returns to the postseason for a fourth straight season as well. The Blue Jackets lost in the first round in 2017 and 2018 and were knocked out in the second round last year.
These teams met twice during the regular season and a third meeting was scrubbed when the season was cancelled. Mitch Marner scored two goals, and added one assist, to help the Maple Leafs win the first game 4-1 in Columbus on October 4. Riley Nash, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Alexander Wennberg scored in regulation time, Gustav Nyquist scored on a penalty shot in overtime, and Columbus won the second meeting 4-3 in Toronto on October 21.
Strength vs. strength will be featured in this series. The Blue Jackets allowed 2.67 goals per game (GPG) on defense, which was tied for third best with Arizona. Columbus ranked third last on offense scoring 2.54 GPG. Toronto was third overall with 3.39 GPG on offense but the Maple Leafs defence was bottom five allowing 3.24 GPG. Playing on home ice is a slight advantage for Toronto as the Maple Leafs posted a solid 18-9-7 record at Scotiabank Arena.
Series Pick: Toronto Maple Leafs -172
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets Game 1 Betting Odds
Early odds for Game 1 of this series are posted on the betting board at FanDuel. Toronto is the moneyline and puck line favorite. The game total is listed at 5.5 goals with OVER as chalk. The Maple Leafs own a 4-2-2 series edge over the Blue Jackets during the last three seasons. Six or more goals were scored in six of those contests. Prior to the pause, Toronto posted a 7-6-2 record while Columbus played a lot of overtime games and closed with a 3-6-6 record.
Columbus hasn’t announced whether veteran Joonas Korpisalo (2.60 GAA 19-12-5) or rookie Elvis Merzlikins (2.35 GAA 13-9-8) will be their series starter. Workhorse Frederik Anderson (2.85 GAA 29-13-7) will start in goal for Toronto. While the players were still rusty, neither team played well on defense during training camp scrimmages. The top four Toronto point producers posted 266 points this season - compared to just 168 by the Columbus top four.
Game 1 Pick: Toronto -1.5 (+175) and OVER 5.5 goals (-135)
Futures Betting Odds – Qualifying Series Total Games
Expect these teams to mirror their NHL regular season approach during this series. For Columbus that means tight checking “heavy” defense while Toronto wants to dictate play with their high-flying offense. The Blue Jackets have enough talent to avoid a sweep. Overall, the Maple Leafs top four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander will be too much for Columbus. Bet on this best-of-five series ending in four games.
Series Total Pick: 4 Games +150