Ilya Samsonov and the Toronto Maple Leafs reached a milestone on Saturday night, beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in overtime to win their first-round series in Game Six. It marks the first time the Leafs have advanced to the second round since 2004.
Facing off against one of the league’s best goaltenders in Andrei Vasilevskiy, Samsonov held his own. In Game Six, he let in only a single goal on 32 Lightning shots and was named the Second Star of the Game. He held a .900 save percentage overall in the series and proved a key part of the team’s playoff success.
When Leafs captain John Tavares netted the overtime winner, Samsonov was seen jumping for joy from the other end of the ice.
the goaltender we needed pic.twitter.com/QcZHa4CYxK
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) April 30, 2023
Asked how he felt postgame, Samsonov first replied, “I feel tired right now.”
He went on to note the larger importance of the moment.
“You know, it’s a big deal for us. Special for this group,” he said. “Yeah, the series over, thank you Tampa. Tampa Bay is nice team. It’s hard series for us. Lot of emotion, thank you fans, this, you guys unbelievable and we just prepare next round.”
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe highlighted Samsonov’s play as a high point Saturday night.
“Firstly what stands out is the play of Samsonov,” he said. “He was so solid all night long. That just gave the group such incredible confidence.”
He later added, “But for him to give us that stability back there, that’s how you end up on the right side of these overtimes. We’ve been on the wrong side of a lot of these overtimes, obviously too many.
“I think there’s a lot that goes into it, but Sammy’s play tonight was inspiring to the group, that we had a chance to just stay with it, to keep chipping away.”
Three of the Leafs’ four wins came after the end of regulation, due in part to Samsonov’s ability to keep the game within striking distance.
Samsonov had a shaky start to the series that saw him pulled in Game One after giving up six goals. He was quick to put that game behind him Saturday night.
“Man, I forgot about,” he said to a chorus of laughter from media members. “I don’t remember what is in the first period right now. What is first game, I don’t know.”
After the team’s collapse in Game One, Samsonov found his footing for much of the remainder of the series. Saturday night was perhaps his best performance yet, regularly stepping up to keep his team inches away from advancing.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) April 29, 2023
“I don’t think I can say enough great things about Sammy,” said Auston Matthews. “I admire his mindset, his attitude, every single day, just comes to the rink and works his ass off. He doesn’t care if he has a bad game, lets in a bad goal. I mean he’s onto the next; he’s got a short memory. He’s just so steady in that net. You know, just a blast playing with him and just completing with him every night.”
It’s been an unexpected path to victory for Samsonov. He signed a one-year deal with the Maple Leafs last summer after the Capitals chose not to tender him a qualifying offer. Once in Toronto, he spent a significant chunk of the year playing second fiddle to Matt Murray before his excellent play and Murray’s repeated injuries earned Samsonov the starter’s net.
Amidst the turmoil, Samsonov stepped up to the challenge. He put up a .919 save percentage in the regular season, allowing a GAA of 2.33. MoneyPuck ranked him 10th in the league in regular-season goals saved above expected. That level of play extended by and large to the pressure of the postseason. And his playoff opponent at the other end of the rink was the great, multi-time Stanley Cup champion Andrei Vasilevskiy.
“He’s the best goalie in this league, yeah?” said Samsonov of the Lightning goaltender. “It’s a good battle.”
Samsonov never quite found consistency in Washington. Perhaps it’s too early to tell whether he’s done so in Toronto. But, at least for now, he’s figured out how to perform when it matters most.
Another case of Bud Light was just delivered to the #leafs dressing room.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) April 30, 2023
The Leafs will face the winner of Game Seven between the Boson Bruins and the Florida Panthers in Round Two. Though the team’s overcome the barrier that’s held them back for nearly 20 years, there’s still plenty more to go.
Auston Matthews: “This is step one of three”
— Mike Stephens (@mikeystephens81) April 30, 2023
Screenshot: Toronto Maple Leafs/YouTube
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