TORONTO — Frederik Andersen couldn’t finish the Maple Leafs playoff-clinching win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but there was hope from his head coach that he could still start the final game of the regular season.
That would be among the best possible scenarios for the Leafs with the playoffs now just around the corner.
Andersen took a Tom Sestito hip to the head two minutes into the second period of an eventual 5-3 win, leaving the Air Canada Centre ice under the care of a team trainer. While providing no update on his status afterward, head coach Mike Babcock said that "ideally" he could start against the Columbus Blue Jackets Sunday — a game with playoff implications for Toronto.
A point against the Jackets would mean the Leafs face the Ottawa Senators in the first round and not the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.
Andersen’s status for the start of those playoffs comes into question if he can’t go against the Jackets and his potential absence would be crippling to the Leafs. The 27-year-old delivered about to expectation in his first season in Toronto, boasting four shutouts, 33 wins and a .918 save percentage in a career-high 66 starts.
He’s also among the few Leafs to play in the post-season previously, including last year when he posted a .947 save percentage in five starts for Anaheim.
"Obviously, he’s been the heart and soul of this team playing the amount of games that he has so far," said Curtis McElhinney, who replaced Andersen against the Penguins. "He’s been a leader and I don’t think you ever want to see him get hurt in a situation like that."
McElhinney said it was a dream for him to come up big in Andersen’s place against the Penguins, though. Not looking entirely comfortable in stopping 12-of-14 shots, the 33-year-old did manage to deny Sidney Crosby in the waning moments of regulation.
"I thought Mac had to make some big saves there at the end," Babcock said. "He wasn’t called on to make a ton, but he was called on to make big ones and sometimes that tougher."
Andersen didn’t look good after the hit from Sestito, clutching at his head as he remained down on the ice. Leafs head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte eventually helped him to the dressing room. It seems likely that Andersen would have been pulled from the game by a concussion spotter given the collision and the way he reacted afterward.
Babcock offered no details on what exactly transpired though, the Leafs equally secretive two weeks earlier when Andersen was bumped in similar fashion by Sabres forward William Carrier. He eventually left that game against the Buffalo Sabres and missed the following start with an undisclosed upper-body injury.
Andersen suffered a concussion with the Ducks last April and is believed to have suffered at least one other prior to that.
The team said it would provide a further update on his status ahead of the game on Sunday.