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Knee Jerk Reaction: Samsonov stands tall to help Leafs earn a point in Boston

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Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Richard
7 months ago
The Leafs rebounded with an impressive effort against the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins on Thursday but ultimately fell 3-2 in a shootout. Despite the final score, it was a strong bounce-back showing on the heels of a listless effort against Los Angeles on Tuesday, but the most encouraging performance came from a player who didn’t see the ice against the Kings.
Ilya Samsonov entered the season as the presumed 1A in Toronto’s goaltending tandem, but he has struggled as Joseph Woll continues to wrestle away playing time. Sheldon Keefe opted to go back to Samsonov against one of the best teams in the league on Thursday, and the netminder rewarded his coach with what was easily his best performance of the season.
Samsonov looked dialled in early, challenging shooters and devouring pucks without allowing much in the way of rebounds. He did get caught overcommitting a bit on Boston’s first goal, but it isn’t unreasonable for him to expect one of a handful of puck-watching Leafs to cover the open man in the slot.
It was the lone blemish in an opening frame that saw the Leafs put together some impressive shifts in the offensive zone, controlling the run of play for a good chunk of the period. The second period didn’t start nearly as well for Toronto, and Samsonov withstood an early onslaught before another breakdown in transition left him high and dry for Boston’s second goal.
His biggest save of the night came shortly thereafter, however, and it was the turning point in the game. Down 2-0, with the Bruins continuing to apply pressure, he made a huge blocker stop on a point-blank shot from the slot to keep the Leafs in the game.
That save allowed another pair of struggling Leafs to get the game back on track, with Mitch Marner finishing off a nice passing play from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner to make the score 2-1. The goal was Marner’s third of the season, and it went straight to their legs. The top line immediately followed it up with another imposing shift in the offensive zone, and after some strong work by William Lagesson, Calle Järnkrok found Matthews all alone in the slot to tie the game. It was just Matthews’ second goal in the past eight games after he opened the season with back-to-back hat tricks, so Keefe had to love seeing his big guns show up in a crucial spot.
With the momentum on their side, the Leafs took it to the Bruins, but Jeremy Swayman wasn’t going to be outdone by Samsonov, making several highlight reel stops of his own. Though the Leafs were unable to convert, they were able to generate more dangerous chances and sustain more offensive zone pressure against the Bruins than they have in many of their recent games.
Though it is a bit disappointing to come away with only a point, the Leafs played well enough to win on Thursday night. Perhaps more importantly, they got some strong performances out of key players who needed something to feel good about.
Samsonov came into the game with an ugly .841 SV% but stood tall to make 38 saves against one of the league’s strongest teams. Matthews finished with a goal and an assist to go along with five shots on goal. Marner started the scoring and looked more like his usual dynamic self as the game wore on. The penalty kill even took a step forward as the Leafs killed off both of Boston’s power play chances, including a 4-on-3 in overtime.
Joseph Woll has been one of the Leafs’ biggest bright spots this season, helping to keep the team’s collective heads above water while Samsonov struggled, but they’re going to need both goaltenders playing well to compete in an increasingly tough Atlantic Division. It’s difficult to overstate how important it is for Samsonov to return to something that resembles the form he displayed last season, and Thursday’s effort was a huge step in the right direction.
It wasn’t all positive for the Leafs, however, as Timothy Liljegren left the game after Brad Marchand sent him awkwardly into the boards. Sheldon Keefe said after the game that it looks like Liljegren will miss significant time.
It still wasn’t perfect and they didn’t get the two points, but there were some important smaller victories for the Leafs in this game, and they’ll look to build off of those when they take on the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday.
 
Statistics from NHL.com

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