Just a couple of days before Game 3 against the Boston Bruins, Ilya Samsonov was told that it was his turn to take over the Washington Capitals crease — and he embraced the return.
The 24-year-old made his Stanley Cup Playoff debut against the Boston Bruins Wednesday following a long layoff and time on the COVID-19 list. He last played on May 1 and went 13-4-1 on the season with a .902 save percentage and 2.69 GAA.
Once he skated onto the ice on TD Garden as the third Caps goaltender to play in this series, he he did what he could to settle into the game and stay sharp. It paid off as he put on a show with 40 of 43 shots over five periods where the Bruins titled the ice as they ultimate outshot Washington.
“You know [I focused on] emotional control in the game, mental control,” Samsonov explained. “Sometimes you have a high and the down. Last game I feel in the middle. I feel great.”
Ultimately, a miscommunication between him and defenseman Justin Schultz behind the net spoiled a strong outing for Samsonov, as Craig Smith stole the puck and net the double overtime winner to give the Bruins a 3-2 victory. Despite the play, Samsonov is ready to move forward.
“Everybody help me [after the loss],” Samsonov explained. “Locker room, coaches, everybody. Much easier with that support.”
Head coach Peter Laviolette was also eager to ignore the result, and said it shouldn’t overshadow Samsonov’s performance. He liked what he saw from the young netminder, who he said he earned that opportunity after the work he’s put in over the shortened 2020-21 campaign.
“We were working to get Sammy back... Why did I put him back? Because he’s been our goaltender all year,” Laviolette said. “Him and Vitek [Vanecek] were the two guys that got us here... that was the choice that we went with.”
With Vanecek still day-to-day with a lower-body injury he suffered during Game 1 and Craig Anderson sitting Game 3 due to maintenance, it appears that Samsonov has taken back the Capitals starting duties as he’s ready to keep moving forward.
Washington’s skaters also showed confidence in their Russian goalie, who posted a .930 save percentage in his first postseason showdown.
“He did a great job for us...if he didn't stand on his head, we probably wouldn't have gotten to [double overtime],” defenseman John Carlson said.
The Caps currently trail the series 2-1, and as they consider their options in net, Samsonov’s certainly made his case to press pause on the goaltending carousel for now.
“I feel good, I’m ready for anything,” Samsonov said. “I get some practice every day. I feel pretty good right now.”