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Woll stands tall, gives Maple Leafs life against Bruins


BOSTON — Joseph Woll knew he wasn't getting the nod for Game 1 of the playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs had clearly been trending towards Ilya Samsonov late in the regular season, including a week of rest for the goaltender ahead of the Stanley Cup chase.

Woll didn't pout or show any disappointment at getting passed over. He simply kept his head down and continued on the same regimented path.

"It was really obvious to me that he was going to just continue to work," Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said of the rookie. "And prepare as though he was playing."

Woll got that chance in a hostile environment Tuesday with his team facing elimination — a situation he experienced some 12 months ago.

The calm, cool 25-year-old didn't flinch. Now the Leafs have life.

Woll made 27 saves in his first start in more than two weeks in Toronto's 2-1 overtime victory that cut the Boston Bruins' lead to 3-2 in the teams' best-of-seven series.

"He's unbelievable," Leafs forward Max Domi, who stepped into the No. 1 centre spot with Auston Matthews unavailable, said of the netminder. "He's been sitting around for a while. Shows how mature he is and the presence that he brings when he steps in between the pipes."

Game 6 of the first-round matchup goes Thursday in Toronto at Scotiabank Arena. Game 7, if necessary, would be Saturday back at Boston's TD Garden.

Woll got a taste of NHL playoff action in last spring's second round after Samsonov was injured against the Florida Panthers. He made three appearances in that series, including a victory in Game 4 on the road before Toronto lost Game 5 in OT at home.

"That experience last year definitely helped," said Woll, who made a huge third-period stop on former junior teammate Trent Frederic before adding five more saves in Tuesday's extra period. "I felt more comfortable coming into the situation. Each time you get a little more experience, and you learn from your mistakes."

Woll's second career victory in an elimination game tied him with Gord McRae, Felix Potvin and John Ross Roach for the most by a rookie in franchise history.

"I feel pretty safe when he's in net," fellow freshman Matthew Knies said after scoring Tuesday's winner at 2:26 of OT. "I trust him a lot."

Drafted by the Leafs in the third round of the 2016 draft — the same year they took Matthews with the No. 1 pick — Woll spent three seasons at Boston College in the NCAA before turning pro and signing with Toronto in 2019.

Despite being in enemy territory Tuesday at TD Garden, the piano-playing goalie felt at home on a sheet of ice he knows well.

"I'm having the time of my life out there," said Woll, who grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Dardenne Prairie. "A place I've played a lot of big games. To come in here and play the Bruins in an elimination game is pretty special."

Woll started 2023-24 strong with an 8-5-1 record and a .916 save percentage before suffering a high ankle sprain that sidelined him exactly 12 weeks.

His numbers weren't nearly as good after returning to action Feb. 29 — 4-6-0 with an .890 save percentage as Toronto leaned on Samsonov down the stretch — but the process and routine remained the same.

"He works really hard," Keefe said. "He fought through a tough injury that derailed what was a tremendous season to that point.

"But he stayed with it."

And now his Leafs have a pulse.


The son of Tie Domi — a fan favourite in Toronto from 1995 through 2006 — filled some massive shoes with Matthews ruled out Tuesday after also being pulled from Game 4 with an illness.

The 29-year-old Domi helped set up the Leafs' first goal, played almost 19 minutes between Mitch Marner and Tyler Bertuzzi, and won 12-of-14 faceoffs.

"(Domi) did a really good job of ensuring that line didn't have to spend a lot of time in our end," Keefe said. "Our start to the game has to begin with a forecheck, has to begin with work and competing. That's the playoffs. That's what this series certainly demands.

"Credit to Max."


Boston blew a 3-1 lead against Florida in last year's opening round before losing in seven games. The Leafs still have a mountain to climb, but forced the Bruins to board a Wednesday flight they had hoped to avoid.

"As difficult as this one was here (Tuesday), the next one's going to be even harder," Keefe said. "You got their attention."

Toronto will look to secure its first playoff win at Scotiabank Arena since Game 2 of last year's series against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday — a stretch of six straight losses.

"Haven't been good on home ice," Keefe said. "We've earned ourselves another opportunity to fix that."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 1, 2024.


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