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Ilya Samsonov’s ability to bounce back will serve Maple Leafs well during Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Photo credit:Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
17 days ago
Ilya Samsonov’s turnaround this season is one of the best storylines from the 2023-24 NHL season. The Toronto Maple Leafs chose to ‘reset’ the netminder three months into the year and his resilience and ability to forget and move on is going to serve the team very well come playoff time.
At this point Samsonov appears to be the frontrunner to start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, as the Leafs only have nine games remaining on the schedule and of late, he’s been outperforming Joseph Woll. In fact, he’s been outperforming most goalies in the league. The Maple Leafs are a confident bunch in front of Samsonov and in the playoffs goaltenders need goldfish-like memories, to quickly move on from a loss.
Samsonov’s numbers before being waived on January 1st were dismal. His save percentage was the worst out in the league and frankly, things didn’t look good for the Russian netminder and his future with the Maple Leafs. Now, the fan base likely wouldn’t have an issue if the team decided to re-sign him to a contract extension this summer.
Since being ‘reset’ back in January, Samsonov’s last 19 games have been lights out. He’s posted a 15-3-1 record along with a .916 Sv.%. His performance over the weekend in Buffalo, shutting out the Sabres 3-0 was one of the best games of his career, and certainly ranks up there for games played as a Leaf.
After the game ‘Sammy’ gave one of the best quotes of the season and reiterated the importance of moving on from the past:
I don’t remember [last] time I be here. Last time? Nine goals. F—k that s—t. (Laughs) I feel good right now. That long time ago. I don’t remember.
Auston Matthews admitted he was basically lost for words trying to describe what he saw, landing on ‘incredible’. The Maple Leafs dominant crowd in Buffalo gave Samsonov a standing ovation after the game and the netminder returned the favour, saluting the crowd as he skated after posting his third shutout of the season.

Samsonov Becoming Obvious Choice for Game 1

Nothing against Woll, he’s one of the more promising goalies in the league, but this run Samsonov is on has been special and there’s no doubt he should be starting Game 1. And if he loses Game 1, he should be back in there for Game 2.
After posting a career season in 2022-23, it hasn’t been easy for Samsonov but he’s managed to find a way, work his ass off and now is better than he’s ever been. The time away from the rink, with a visit from his Father, turned out to be the best decision the Maple Leafs could have made. Yes, it was quite risky putting the former first-round pick through waivers, but at the time, nobody would have touched him with a 10-foot pole. Brad Treliving deserves a ton of credit and so does Maple Leafs goalie coach Curtis Sanford. Sanford’s put in a ton of work to get Samsonov technically sound and back on track, and after the recent shutout performance against the Sabres, Sanford told Keefe it was the best he’s ever seen the goaltender from a technical standpoint.
While the Leafs have a ton of question marks regarding their playoff lineup, in part because of the injuries to deal with, Toronto is set in net, with Samsonov as the starter and Woll backing him up. The same Woll who posted a .915 Sv.% in four appearances last postseason, his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Keefe has a lot of work to do, tinkering with the lineup once Mitch Marner, Morgan Rielly, Calle Jarnkrok and Joel Edmundson are ready to return, but one thing the Leafs’ coach doesn’t need to worry about, is Samsonov being ready to carry the load come playoff time.

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