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Leafs praise 'lights out' Samsonov after first win since Dec. 9

Ilya Samsonov Ilya Samsonov - The Canadian Press

The Toronto Maple Leafs were full of praise for Ilya Samsonov after the goaltender recorded his first win since Dec. 9 in Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Seattle Kraken.

Samsonov, who was waived and assigned to the AHL to start the month, made 16 saves against the Kraken, ending a five-game winless run.

“Sammy was lights out for us. He made some unbelievable saves and just looked really confident, really poised in there,” centre Auston Matthews said. “It was great to see.”

“[Samsonov has] been grinding away,” added winger Nick Robertson, who scored in his return to the lineup after three games as a healthy scratch. “I think he's just been on the opposite side of luck. ... He’s a great goaltender, too, so for him to get rewarded like that, and [after] working and going through this rough patch, it's good to see, and I hope he can build on it."

Sunday's win came in Samsonov's second start since rejoining the Maple Leafs roster on Jan. 10. He allowed three goals on 23 shots in a loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 14.

The 26-year-old netminder has been candid about his struggles this season after opening the year as the team's No. 1 option. He has a 6-3-6 record with a .866 save percentage and a 3.69 goals-against average in 17 games this season.

Samsonov is just a year removed from his best season as a pro, winning 27 games, earning four shutouts, and posting a career-best .919 save percentage. He was awarded a one-year, $3.55 million contract in arbitration in the off-season.

“I think October to a couple of weeks ago this time is probably [the] hardest in my life,” Samsonov said after Sunday's win. “But life is moving forward and staying positive. I forgot about what was going on in the past. I'm just focused [on] today.”

With Joseph Woll sidelined and Samsonov struggling, the Maple Leafs have leaned heavily on veteran Martin Jones over the past six weeks. Jones, however, has lost in four of his past five starts and allowed six goals on 21 shots in Saturday's loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Woll, out with an ankle injury since early December, has resumed skating but remains without a set timeline for a return.

The Maple Leafs have won two of their past three games after a four-game winless run and will now return home to host the Winnipeg Jets on Wednesday night.