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Kristen Shilton

TSN Toronto Maple Leafs Reporter

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TORONTO – Maple Leafs’ starting goaltender Frederik Andersen has recovered enough from his recent neck injury to return to the crease on Thursday when Toronto hosts the Dallas Stars.  

Andersen has missed four games since getting hurt in the first period of last Monday’s game against Florida. The Leafs placed third-string goalie Michael Hutchinson on waivers Thursday afternoon to make room for Andersen to come off injured reserve.

“I've been feeling good, just being patient,” Andersen said following the Leafs’ morning skate. “I feel ready to go again, so it's been a nice little process to make sure we hit the things we needed to and got ready.”

The 30-year-old netminder has been cagey about the details of his injury, refusing to say which collision in that 5-3 loss to the Panthers ultimately did the damage. He also wouldn’t definitively say Thursday that the neck problem won’t be something he continues dealing with going forward.

“I'm ready to play, so that's really all I'm going to say,” Andersen shrugged. “I don't want to go into specifics [other than] being good to go.”

The Leafs had been leaning heavily on Andersen prior to his injury, having him start 42 of their first 53 games.

Including the loss to Florida, where Hutchinson took the loss in relief of Andersen, the Leafs went 2-2-1 without their starter, relying on newcomer Jack Campbell to help fill the void. 

Campbell was acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings last Wednesday, immediately after Hutchinson backstopped Toronto in a 5-3 loss to the New York Rangers and dropped his season stat line to 4-9-1 with an .886 save percentage and 3.66 goals-against average.

Campbell took over starting duties from Hutchinson immediately, going 2-0-1 to open his Leafs’ career with a .918 save percentage and 2.52 goals-against average. But despite that run of early success, head coach Sheldon Keefe gave no thought to sticking with Campbell once Andersen was back up and running.

“Fred said he’s healthy and ready, so he’ll go,” Keefe said. “There's some curiosity [with Andersen] in terms of getting the game reps and [seeing] how he can respond there, but he's put a lot of work in. I think he was very close to being ready [on Tuesday against Arizona]. We made the decision to give him a little more time so I fully expect he's going to be ready.”

Andersen had been originally eyeing the Coyotes’ game for his return, but was convinced the timing still wasn’t quite right after taking the morning skate on Tuesday.

“That was difficult; not much more to say than that,” Andersen said of sitting out another game. “I'm sure everyone who gets hurt or goes through a process of rehabbing something, when you feel like you're getting close I think part of you wants to push through a little bit before maybe you're ready. But I think between myself and the guys in the medical room, we did a good job of being patient and making sure that everything is being done the right way.”

Now that he’s gotten the green light, Andersen is focused on recapturing what worked so well in his game before the injury. Andersen went 2-0-0 with a .929 save percentage over two full starts coming off his first-ever appearance at the all-star game in January.

“I felt I had some good games there,” Andersen said. “And I just want to keep that going. Guys have been playing well in the meantime and getting some points, so hopefully we can keep that going.”

Andersen also noted the effort Toronto has put into bettering its team defence lately, particularly since Campbell arrived. Over the past three games, the Leafs’ have averaged 2.67 goals against, down from their season average of 3.25.

“We have been focused on that, and I think they've shown some good steps and shown some real development and improvement in that,” Andersen said. “And I think Jack's been doing great in the few games he's been playing.”

Campbell will take a back seat now for the first time since the trade, making way for Andersen as the Leafs try to complete a season sweep of Dallas. Toronto beat the Stars 5-3 on Jan. 29, riding the strength of a 31-save performance by Andersen. In that matchup, the Leafs twice came close to blowing a multi-goal lead, and are prepared going into Thursday for another tightly contested game.

“How they work defensively, they consistently have people back and numbers around the puck,” Keefe said of Dallas. “They don't give up very much off the rush or in their own zone, so it'll be a challenge to get at the net. That's the biggest thing.”