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Maple Leafs praise 'perfect' performance from Samsonov


Ilya Samsonov put together one of the most impressive single-game goalie performances of the NHL season on Wednesday, stopping all 32 shots he faced as the Toronto Maple Leafs downed the Central Division-leading Winnipeg Jets 1-0 in overtime. 

Samsonov, who now has won back-to-back games for the first time since December, made numerous difficult saves on the night, including three saves when the shorthanded Jets were on a 2-0 breakaway in the second period. 

For his efforts, Samsonov received the "Player of the Game" belt for the second straight game and was praised by his coach and teammates. 

"Perfect," said head coach Sheldon Keefe regarding his goalie. "He was excellent from start to finish. He was good early in the game when they were shooting the puck from everywhere on the sides, and he was obviously great on the few high-end chances that they had, he was terrific. Just another building block for him where he just looks as confident as ever."

"[Samsonov] was unbelievable," said Matthews, who scored his 39th goal of the season in overtime. "I thought he was the best player on the ice for us by far, so I can’t say enough good things about him. Just the way he played tonight was incredible."

The 26-year-old Russian came into this season as the Maple Leafs' No. 1 goalie after signing a one-year, $3.55 million contract over the summer after arbitration. 

But Samsonov struggled over the first three months of the season, eventually allowing 21 goals over four straight losses in December. That poor run led the Leafs to place him on waivers on Dec.31 and he spent the next 10 day with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League in an effort to get back on track. 

"I’ve always just loved his attitude and the way he goes about his business," explained Matthews. "Obviously, it wasn’t going very well for him there for a little bit, but that’s just when he worked harder and harder and really just dialled it in and did the extra work. Mentally, he’s as solid as any goalie I’ve been around and for him to rebound like he has been playing, it’s unbelievable for our team but unbelievable for his confidence."

Samsonov, who said he almost cried after getting a standing ovation during the game, explained how relieved he was to see Matthews score the winner. 

"Please score," he said. "I have long time I did not win in overtime. I’m not afraid, but you know, like still shaky a little bit. When I see Auston with the puck, you know we won."

The Maple Leafs are off to Winnipeg this weekend to take on the Jets in the second half of their home-and-home series.