By Katie Adler
The Capitals made a splash at the trade deadline, trading away five roster players to the Boston Bruins, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, and Toronto Maple Leafs. All four teams had hopes of serious playoff contention, bolstering their rosters in preparation. By the second round, however, Erik Gustafsson is the last man standing, as the only player from the 2022-23 Caps roster to remain in the postseason.
On Sunday night, he worked to keep it that way, earning a goal in only his second game of the playoffs.
With the Panthers up 2-0 in the series before this game, it was almost certainly a must-win for the Leafs. Gustafsson’s goal came midway through the second period, when his pass attempt instead went off the stick of Panthers’ Marc Staal and into the net. It marked only the second career playoff goal for the 31-year-old blueliner, with his last coming in 2021 for the Montreal Canadiens.
Gustafsson has served primarily as an extra defenseman this postseason, but has played when the Leafs have played an 11-forwards, 7-defenseman lineup. He had missed much of the end of the regular season, dealing with both an upper-body injury and a family health crisis back in Washington. He last appeared in the first round for Game Six, when the Leafs won a series for the first time in 19 years with the 11F-7D lineup.
That strategy didn’t pay off for the Leafs on Sunday. Carter Verhaeghe would score a few minutes later to tie it up, and Sam Reinhart would end the game in overtime to give the Panthers a 3-0 series lead.
Even worse for the Leafs, the game saw starting goaltender and former Capital Ilya Samsonov leave early due to injury. The incident came early in the second when Leafs defender Luke Schenn collided into Samsonov in front of the net.
a collision between Schenn and Samsonov pic.twitter.com/STQdHkeze8
— Omar (@TicTacTOmar) May 7, 2023
Samsonov would not return, and head coach Sheldon Keefe did not provide an update on his condition after the game.
Now, Gustafsson and the Leafs face down elimination, playing for their season in Game Four on Wednesday.
Headline photo: Alan Dobbins/RMNB
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