TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs helped their chances of winning the upcoming draft lottery by falling to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night,
The Leafs can finish no higher than 29th place overall after dropping a 5-1 decision to the Blue Jackets in their final home game of the season. Now solely alone in last place after an Edmonton win against Vancouver, Toronto will have either the best odds of landing the No. 1 overall pick (20 per cent) or the second-best odds (13.5 per cent).
The Leafs, who have two games remaining, can still finish with more points than the Oilers, though a tie would see Edmonton finish higher.
"I see where people are coming from," Leafs centre Tyler Bozak said of lottery implications before the game. "Obviously (fans) want the No. 1 pick and if you lose you've got a better chance of getting it so I see what people are saying. But within our room there's not one guy in here who wants to lose."
Brandon Saad, Brandon Dubinsky, with two, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Matt Calvert scored for Columbus and Sergei Bobrovsky made 26 saves.
Morgan Rielly found the back of the net for Toronto, with Garret Sparks stopping 27-of-32 shots on Fan Appreciation Night.
Losers in six of nine entering the night, the Blue Jackets exploded for three goals in about four minutes in the third to seal the victory.
Columbus didn't land its first shot until more than 12 minutes had gone by in the opening period, though.
Becoming the 46th player to suit up for the Leafs this season, Sam Carrick had the best chance early for Toronto, which controlled much of the first-period play. Carrick was found open in the slot by veteran Brad Boyes, but his shot attempt was stopped by Bobrovsky.
The 24-year-old was recalled from the Toronto Marlies on Wednesday morning on an emergency basis, replacing Rich Clune.
The shots were 6-1 favouring the Leafs with about six minutes remaining in the first. With goals in the two previous games, including a pair in a Monday loss to Florida, Colin Greening had a terrific chance to score again late in the frame. The 30-year-old had all kinds of space and time in the high slot, but his shot turned down by the Blue Jackets goaltender.
Due to be a restricted free agent this summer, Rielly opened the scoring with his career-high ninth goal this season. The 22-year-old has also posted career-bests with 27 assists and 36 points. Rielly was fed shorthanded by 20-year-old Frederik Gauthier, his blazing wrist shot beating Bobrovsky high blocker-side.
It was the first short-handed goal in Rielly's three-year NHL career.
Saad tied it less than 10 minutes later on an error by 19-year-old Leafs rookie Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly scoring his first NHL goal half a minute earlier, Kapanen turned the puck over at the Blue Jackets blue line, springing a Columbus counter-attack.
Saad blew past the Toronto defence and snuck a shot through the pads of Sparks. It was his 29th goal this season, increasing a career-best.
Another Leaf turnover helped the Blue Jackets to the lead with less three minutes to go in the second. T.J. Brennan's backhand passing attempt was picked off just outside the Toronto blue line cueing another counter for Columbus. Dubinsky finished the scoring play, roofing a shot past the glove of the Leafs goaltender.
Columbus turned the game into a blowout midway through the third. Bjorkstrand and Calvert scored less than a minute apart, joined three minutes after that by Dubinsky, who now has 17 goals this season — his most in four seasons with the Blue Jackets.
The Leafs saluted fans in attendance after the defeat, also lingering on the ice afterward to sign autographs and pose for photos.
Toronto will pick no lower than fifth at the June draft in Buffalo after selecting London Knights forward Mitch Marner with the fourth-overall pick last summer.
"There's no question we've got lots of work to do," Leafs coach Mike Babcock said on Wednesday morning.
"The reality is this isn't what you want. The exciting time of the year is just about ready to start."
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press