Ilya Samsonov had missed the last two games of the regular season due to lingering injuries. However, he’s expected to (and in fact is getting ready to) play in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Samsonov has been a standout player for the Maple Leafs this season since he took over the starting goalie’s job from Matt Murray due to Murray’s injuries.

Related: Can the Lightning Simply Flip a Switch to Beat the Maple Leafs?

Samsonov Has Been a Pleasant Find for the Maple Leafs

Last offseason, Samsonov signed a one-year contract with the Maple Leafs after being released by the Washington Capitals. What a find he’s been for his new team. In 42 games this season, Samsonov had a record of 27-10-5 with four shutouts. He also has put together a 2.33 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage.

Ilya Samsonov, Maple Leafs

What’s so neat about Samsonov is his personality. He has tons of it, and he lets it shine through in many ways. Recently, when he was asked about his new team this season, he clearly stated that the Maple Leafs are the best team in the NHL.

What Did Samsonov Say About His Team?

Why are the Maple Leafs the best team in Samsonov’s book? In a statement made before taking part in an optional practice he answered, “Because we have a nice group, we have best doctors, best therapists, best workout coaches, we have best coaches, we have best players.”

That would about cover it, I think.

I had read that when Samsonov signed with the Maple Leafs, a number of Maple Leafs’ players immediately reached out to send him a note to welcome him to the team. For him, that made a huge first impression. And that impression hasn’t waned. He felt immediately at home and as if he belonged.

Related: 4 Keys the Maple Leafs Must Address to Beat the Lightning

Samsonov Loves Playing in Toronto, and Toronto Loves Him Too

The simple truth seems to be that Samsonov loves playing in Toronto, and the Maple Leafs’ fans love having him play here. He’s been that good this season.

Look for the Maple Leafs’ defence to help Samsonov win during the postseason. Despite not being reflected in the standings, the Maple Leafs have been a top-5 team all season in underlying statistical categories. That’s been especially true in their defensive play.

Calle Jarnkrok of the Maple Leafs is a great all-round player

This improvement in their defence has led many analysts to believe they have a good chance of advancing past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. If goalie Samsonov can stop enough pucks, his belief that the Maple Leafs are the best in the NHL might just come true.

Look for Samsonov to Be Back Next Season

Whatever happens; and, in the playoffs anything could, look for Samsonov to be back with the team next season. I’m calling for the Maple Leafs to build a goalie tandem for the future around both Samsonov and Joseph Woll. And, I’m looking for the Maple Leafs to do it over the long term.


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