TORONTO — The Maple Leafs appear to have dodged another injury bullet.
A day after starting netminder Frederik Andersen exited a game against Pittsburgh with an apparent injury, the Leafs saw ice-time leader Nikita Zaitsev exit with an upper-body ailment on Sunday against Columbus. But like Andersen, head coach Mike Babcock indicated that the 25-year-old would be ready for the start of the post-season.
Asked if he was concerned that Zaitsev would miss time, Babcock said: "I'm not."
The Leafs play Game 1 of their first-round series against Washington on Thursday night.
Zaitsev was hammered into the endboards by Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno in the waning seconds of the first period. He appeared wobbly after the hit, seemingly trying to catch his balance before exiting straight for the dressing room just before the intermission horn sounded.
He returned for one shift in the second period before departing to the room once more with team trainers.
Later that same period Roman Polak took a bump to his left side from Brandon Dubinsky and came up in apparent discomfort. He too left for the dressing room, but was well enough, evidently, to return six minutes into the third period — albeit for only a single shift of 22 seconds.
The 30-year-old sat on the bench for the remainder of the 3-2 loss.
Toronto played with four defencemen for much of the night, Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly soaking up big minutes in particular because of the shortage. Gardiner logged 28:40 — just shy of a career-high 29:24 from earlier this season — Rielly coming in at just under 25 minutes.
"We tried to take short shifts and have the forwards help us in breaking out quickly and trying to spend more time in their zone," Gardiner said.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press