Leafs own 4th best record since Jan 21st thanks to Ilya Samsonov

Dean Chaudhry
April 8, 2024  (8:36)

Ilya Samsonov all business for the Maple Leafs
Photo credit: Toronto Maple Leafs Twitter

Since Ilya Samsonov has returned to the big club after being placed on waivers, he has been one of the main driving forces as to why the Toronto Maple Leafs hold a top-4 record in the NHL since the middle of January.

Samsonov was extremely shaky during the Maple Leafs' season opener as he allowed 5 goals on just 24 shots in their eventual 6-5 victory over the Montreal Canadiens. Things didn't fare any better until his 8th game of the season as he allowed 23 goals in his first 7 appearances while holding a .855 SV% up until that point. He bounced back with a 3-0-1 record in his next 4 games, which included an 18-save shutout against Nashville, while making 106 saves on 114 shots.
Unfortunately, that was as good as things got for Samsonov in the first half of the season as he dropped his next 4 starts - 3 of which were in overtime - while allowing 21 goals on just 104 shots. The Maple Leafs placed the netminder on waivers, and once he cleared, he was sent to the AHL's Toronto Marlies. He never suited up in the minors and wound up returning 2 and a half weeks later, rejuvinated and with a lot of motivation.
Since making his return, Samsonov has been fantastic and a huge reason as to why the Maple Leafs have righted the ship, clinched a playoff spot, and will enter the post-season as one of the hottest teams in the league. He has gone 17-4-1 in his last 22 games, allowing just 55 goals in that span, and holding a .912 SV%. A stark contrast to his 5-2-6 record, .862 SV%, and a GAA well above 3.50 in his first 15 games.
Auston Matthews - among a myriad of other Leafs players - has noticed a big difference between how he started the season versus how he has bounced back since being placed on waivers:
"You can just see it in his face and his body language. He's feeling really good right now, and it's just great to see."

The Maple Leafs as a whole have gone 22-9-1 since January 21st - Samsonov's first win and second game back from the minors - and have the 4th best record in the entire league during that stretch. Only the New York Rangers, Carolina Hurricanes, and the Dallas Stars have fared better than the Maple Leafs since the middle of January and Samsonov's amazing run of play is s huge reason for that.
Having Samsonov back in pristine form might be the biggest key to success for the Leafs heading into the playoffs. Offensively, they are clicking and they have shored things up defensively since the trade deadline. When it comes to their lack of post-season success, the missing link has generally been goaltending. If Samsonov can carry this momentum into the playoffs, whether they play Boston or Florida, the Leafs will have more than a fighting chance to get out of the first round in consecutive seasons for the first time since 2000-01 and 2001-02.
The offensive juggernaut that is paced by Matthews' 64 goals and 100 points and William Nylander's 40 goals and 96 points will always be churning. John Tavares, who struggled to begin the season, has righted the ship as of late with 7 goals and 16 points in his last 17 games. Max Domi has 16 points in his last 21 games, and even Bobby McMann has chipped in admirably with 13 goals and 17 points in his last 26 games. Not to mention that Mitch Marner has returned from his high-ankle sprain, and Morgan Rielly is quietly putting up another strong season with 53 points in just 67 games. With the offense clicking, the Leafs just need the timely saves that have been missing over the last few years.
With the Boston Bruins having defeated the Florida Panthers in overtime over the weekend, it all but solidified their 2nd straight division title and 3rd in the last 5 years. There's still a chance Florida can overtake Boston, but they are currently 5 points back and they each have 4 game remaining, thus likely giving us an inevitable rematch of last year's 2nd round matchup with Florida being the Leafs' most likely 1st round opponent.
Samsonov was forced out of that series after sustaining an injury in Game 3 but had allowed 7 goals on 65 shots in 2+ games to that point before the Leafs were sent packing in 5 games. You know the Leafs are hungry for revenge and Samsonov will be ready for anything thrown his way. With just 6 games remaining in the regular season, he is currently enjoying a 7-1-1 run over his last 9 starts, with a .921 SV% and a 2.44 GAA and has never looked better. As a result, he has been named the Leafs' nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, an award celebrating a player's resiliency, given to "the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey".
His strong goaltending mixed with the Panthers having lost 9 of their last 12 games have given the Maple Leafs the opportunity to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round - something that was not even a thought a few weeks ago. Toronto is 5 points back of Florida, but has two games in hand and both clubs face off against one another in the penultimate matchup of the regular season, which could be a huge swing game.
At some point in time, look for the Maple Leafs to give Samsonov some rest before the playoffs. However, Samsonov will look to ride his momentum and guide the club to greener pastures with their eyes firmly set on the prize. Winning one playoff round is not nearly enough anymore and with the Eastern Conference wide open, it's anyone's crown to take. If they want to get out of the first round, it looks like they'll need to take out last year's Eastern Conference champions in order to do so.
8 AVRIL   |   349 ANSWERS
Leafs own 4th best record since Jan 21st thanks to Ilya Samsonov

Between Ilya Samsonov and Auston Matthews, who has been the bigger driving force of the Toronto Maple Leafs since mid-January?

Ilya Samsonov17550.1 %
Auston Matthews17149 %
Other30.9 %
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