NEWS
04/09/2017 16:54 EDT | Updated 04/09/2017 18:01 EDT

Leafs drop season finale, will face Caps in first round

TORONTO — There will be no Battle of Ontario in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their regular-season finale 3-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday night and will now face the Washington Capitals in the opening round of their first post-season since 2013.

James van Riemsdyk scored a pair in defeat and Curtis McElhinney made 29 saves for Toronto, a 2-0 lead melting away in a porous second period.

Matt Calvert, Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson scored in the comeback for Columbus. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 30-of-32 shots to earn the win for the Jackets, who are set for a first-round matchup against Pittsburgh.

Had they earned even a point, the Leafs would have faced the Ottawa Senators in the first round, but instead get the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals.

Toronto has never faced Washington in the post-season before — the two teams were in different conferences for a long stretch — and they'll be heavy underdogs the first time around. The Capitals had the NHL's best regular-season record for the second straight season, loaded at every position as they bid for a first Stanley Cup.

There's Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov and T.J. Oshie to tangle with up front, Kevin Shattenkirk and John Carlson to cause problems on a deep back-end and Braden Holtby, the reigning Vezina trophy winner, to beat between the pipes.

The Leafs went 1-1-1 against the Caps in the regular season.

Asked about pressure on his young team heading into the playoffs on Sunday morning Leafs coach Mike Babcock deflected with apparent aim at the Capitals. 

"You have nerves when you win the Presidents' Trophy and you're playing a real good team in the first round," said Babcock before the Leafs opponent was known. "That's when it's a totally different program though. We're so far away from that program though. We've got two years left before that happens."

Easily the biggest question mark for the Leafs heading in is the health of No. 1 starter Frederik Andersen. The 27-year-old sat out Sunday's game after exiting a playoff-clinching tilt with Pittsburgh one night earlier following a hit to the head from Penguins forward Tom Sestito. 

Babcock said Andersen suffered no concussion symptoms from the hit and would be ready for the start of the post-season.

The Dane has a history of head injuries though, including one from all indications late last month which caused him to miss a start.

His absence would dampen the Leafs chances considerably, McElhinney a so-so option at best at age 33.

The Leafs had an extra bounce to their step early against Columbus, fresh off the clinching victory over Pittsburgh. They took it to the reeling Jackets (losers of six straight coming in), holding them without a shot for the first 10-plus minutes.

Toronto had chances aplenty, especially during a four-minute power play, but couldn't beat Korpisalo in the first 20 minutes. It was in the final minutes of the frame that rookie defenceman Nikita Zaitsev was plastered into the end-boards by Jackets captain Nick Foligno.

The 25-year-old, who set a franchise rookie record for minutes this season, wobbled after the hit, seemingly just trying to get his balance. He went immediately to the dressing room, returned for one shift in the second and then exited for good with an upper-body injury.

The Leafs got on the board early in the middle frame, van Riemsdyk scoring the first of his two goals on the night. The 27-year-old popped off the left sideboards with the puck and then beat Korpisalo. He added his second goal and 28th this season during a 2-on-1 rush with Mitch Marner.

Coming on some since midway through the first, the Jackets came charging back with three goals in less than seven minutes. Calvert got the first with a weak backhand between McElhinney's pads, Anderson followed up off the rush, Atkinson notching the go-ahead marker shorthanded.

The Jackets ultimately outshot the Leafs 20-9 in a one-sided period.

Toronto briefly lost another defenceman late in the frame, veteran Roman Polak taking a bump to the left side from Brandon Dubinsky. The 30-year-old, in apparent discomfort, left for the dressing room and didn't return until six minutes had gone by in the third.

Jake Gardiner played a game-high of almost 29 minutes with the blue line shorthanded, the Leafs late comeback effort falling just short.