With the Stanley Cup playoffs just over two weeks away, Ilya Samsonov’s 30-save shutout in a 3-0 win over the Ottawa Senators Saturday night will not only benefit the goaltender but also his Toronto Maple Leafs teammates.
Expectations, as always, are high for the Leafs (44-20-10) this post-season and having your goalie at his best is an encouraging sign.
“That’s obviously what you want to see from him,” said Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe.
“I didn’t think there was a whole lot of offence either way in the game here tonight, but certainly they probably had the better of the chances, I would say, in the game. He was excellent.”
Results last night locked in a Leafs-Tampa Bay Lightning playoff matchup for the second year in a row in the first round. Tampa won in seven games last year.
The Senators (37-34-5) played a solid game despite missing veterans Derick Brassard and Travis Hamonic in addition to Thomas Chabot and Jakob Chychrun, but Samsonov couldn’t be beat.
Michael Bunting, William Nylander and Radim Zohorna each scored for the Maple Leafs (44-20-10).
The Senators were forced to pull Mads Sogaard, who allowed three goals on 16 shots, after two periods as he was wasn’t feeling well. Cam Talbot came in and stopped all four shots he faced in the third.
Senators coach D.J. Smith didn’t go into detail, but said Sogaard would be unable to travel to Columbus with the team for Sunday’s game and someone would be recalled from the AHL affiliate in Belleville.
The Senators (37-34-5) have been clinging to their playoff chances as they sit six points back of the Florida Panthers, who hold the final wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.
Ottawa will play its next three games on the road, including a stop in Columbus Sunday night, and could know its fate by the time they return home.
“We know the situation ahead of us,” said Smith. “We’ve just got to win tomorrow, it’s that simple.
“They played tonight, it’s a back-to-back with travel, we’ve just got to win the game and then we’ll refocus from there. But you know it’s been a battle with the amount of guys that have gone out. I can’t fault the guys. They gave everything they had tonight, it’s that simple and we’ll do that again tomorrow and we’ll do it every game until they tell us we can’t play.”
Trailing 3-0 to start the third the Senators were trying to generate as many chances as possible and had their best chance with a power play midway through the period, but were unsuccessful.
“Everyone knows Ottawa is a very high-paced team and those guys did a lot of shots today,” said Samsonov. “We just tried to prepare for this. Sheldon (Keefe), he said a lot about this before the game. We’re happy we got the two points, and we’ll keep it rolling.”
With time running short Smith pulled Talbot for the final five minutes of regulation, but Ottawa was still unable to beat Samsonov.
“I think we worked really hard, created a lot of chances, but it’s just one of those night’s where everything we shoot hits the goalie,” said Ottawa’s Tim Stutzle. “He made some great saves and credit to him, but in the end I think a really, really good team effort by all the guys. We played hard the whole 60 minutes and didn’t give up. Unfortunate we couldn’t score.”
Bunting opened the scoring early in the second taking advantage of a loose puck knocked down by Nick Holden. He wristed it past Sogaard.
Midway through the period the Leafs won a draw and Nylander took it in the slot and beat Sogaard under the arm to take a 2-0 lead. It was Nylander’s first goal in four games and just his second in the past nine.
With under two minutes remaining in the period, Zohorna — playing his first game with Toronto — scored his first goal.
“I felt great,” said Zohorna. “To be a part of this team, to be right next to these big, big players, great players, it’s such an honour. I’m just enjoying every minute here.”
The Senators outshot the Leafs 10-5 in the opening period and had the better of the chances, but the game remained scoreless.
Ottawa’s Derick Brassard had surgery on a broken fibula after being injured Thursday. D Travis Hamonic also missed Saturday’s game. Toronto’s Ryan O’Reilly practised Friday for the first time since he was injured March 4. Wayne Simmonds was still unable to play and so the Leafs dressed 11 forwards and seven defencemen.
Senators: Head to Columbus to take on the Blue Jackets Sunday night.
Leafs: Host the Detroit Red Wings Sunday.