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The Toronto Maple Leafs will try to win their first playoff series since 2004 when the Stanley Cup Playoffs get underway next week. As the regular season winds down, though, they’re dealing with one hell of a goalie dilemma.
For most of the year, the Leafs used a tandem of Ilya Samsonov and two-time Stanley Cup champ Matt Murray. Samsonov handled most of the work, starting 42 games to Murray’s 26. However, last week, Murray sustained a head injury and hasn’t been on the ice since.
Unfortunate, for sure, but teams deal with this all the time. They called up netminder Joseph Woll from the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. No fuss, no muss.
But now here’s the rub: the Leafs have been up against the cap ceiling for years, and they just signed University of Minnesota standout Matthew Knies to an entry-level deal. To do that, they had to move some pieces around including Woll who was sent back to the AHL.
Additionally, the team wasn’t allowed to get cap relief from putting Murray on LTIR. That was because there are less than 10 games left in the regular season.
This meant that signing Kniel left them without cap space to bring Woll back from the Marlies. So for their last two games they’ve had to sign amateur goalies. The first was Jett Alexander, a 23-year-old who backstops the University of Toronto Varsity Blues. He backed up Samsonov but played the final minute and change of the Leafs 7-1 beatdown of the Montreal Canadiens.
The Leafs Are in A Bind
Then the Leafs moved on to a pair of games against he Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. For Monday’s game against the Panthers, they once again had to sign an amateur goalie on a try out basis. That’s because the NHL said the team didn’t qualify for an emergency recall which wouldn’t count against the salary cap.
This time they signed 21-year-old Nick Chenard of the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack to backup Samsonov. The Leafs defeated the Panthers 2-1 in overtime, snapping Florida’s 6-game winning streak in the process.
The Leafs will now have to play on Tuesday in Tampa and the question is what are they going to do in net?
Are they really going to want Samsonov to play on back-to-back nights with the playoffs right around the corner? But then again, will they want Chenard in net given he hasn’t played a game since getting emilinated from the OHL playoffs?
Playing Chenard On Tuesday Might Be Toronto’s Best Option
Fortunatley, the Leafs playoff match-up with the Lightning is set, as is their home ice advantage. It remains to be seen what they’ll decide to do, but putting Chenard in could be the safest bet. His .835 save percentage in the Ontario Hockey League won’t excite GM Kyle Dubas or bench boss Sheldon Keefe. Then again why risk Samsonov’s health against a team they’ll be up against in the playoffs just a few days later.
“The goaltending stuff has been unfortunate with how all that’s played out with injuries and such,” Keefe said, per The Athletic.
Yeah, no kidding, dude.
There’s no word if the Leafs will be in the same situation for their regular season finale agasint tue New York Rangers or if they’ll get themselves out of — to quite Ned Flanders — this dilly of a pickle.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle