Leafs turn to rookie goaltender Joseph Woll in must-win Game 4 with Samsonov out
SUNRISE, Fla. — Joseph Woll isn't thinking about all the work that got him to this point.
All the Maple Leafs rookie goaltender is focusing on is keeping his team's season alive.
Toronto will turn to Woll for Game 4 of its second-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers staring down a 3-0 deficit with No. 1 option Ilya Samsonov out due to an upper-body injury.
"Right now, it's straight ahead," Woll said following Tuesday's practice at FLA Live Arena. "There's time for reflection. I don't think that time is now. The time right now is to trust everything I've done and everything this team has done.
"As long as I trust that and have some faith, I think anything's possible here."
The Leafs are certainly hoping so after digging themselves a deep hole after beating the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games to advance in the post-season for the first time since 2004.
Toronto hasn't played to its standard against Florida thanks to key mistakes and an offence that's found the back of the net just six times — including zero goals from Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander.
"We have a good group of guys on the ice," Woll said. "(But) it's a special group of human beings. The biggest thing right now is belief.
"I certainly believe we have the group of people to do this."
Samsonov left Sunday's 3-2 overtime loss after being accidentally taken out by teammate Luke Schenn.
Woll was solid off the bench in relief with 22 saves, including a couple huge stops to force OT before getting beaten by a Sam Reinhart wraparound that gave the Panthers a commanding lead in the best-of-seven matchup.
Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said Tuesday that Samsonov is listed as day-to-day and isn't available.
"Joe will go," said Keefe, who added he didn't consider a rusty Matt Murray as an option. "We've got lots of confidence in (Woll). We're excited for him to have that opportunity."
Matthews played with the first-year goaltender when the pair were members of the U.S. National Team Development Program as teenagers.
"Really solid for us when he's had to step in," Matthews said. "He's just made so much progress as a goalie, I think mentally as well.
"Comes to the rink every day with a smile on his face."
A third-round pick by the Leafs in 2016, Woll is 9-2-1 with a .918 save percentage and 2.51 GAA in 13 career regular-season appearances.
He also replaced Samsonov in the third period of Tampa's 7-3 romp in Game 1 of the first round, allowing one goal on four shots.
The 24-year-old was 16-4-1 with a .927 save percentage and a 2.37 GAA with the American Hockey League's Toronto Marlies in 2022-23.
Woll, who grew up just outside St. Louis, spent Monday with his teammates trying to decompress with a steep hill to climb.
"Got a little swim in the ocean, got a bit of water therapy there," he said. "Hopefully everyone got a chance to clear their minds."
That doesn't seem to be an issue for Woll.
"I've had a good mindset of what I want to pursue in my life," he said. "And when I have that, when I have my groundwork, it's easy to see everything.
"I'm just happy to be where I am."
That will be under the bright lights Wednesday.
Leafs defenceman Jake Muzzin has been out with a neck injury most of the season, but is still a consistent presence at home and on the road.
He was also a member of the 2014 Los Angeles Kings — one of four teams in NHL history to come back from a 3-0 series deficit.
"We lean on Jake a lot," Keefe said. "It's just his presence of being around. A lot of it can be more so through just casual discussions with players.
"They're hitting on him a lot in this case."
The Leafs mixed up their lines Tuesday, with Calle Jarnkrok joining Matthews and Marner, while Alexander Kerfoot skated with Tavares and Nylander.
Ryan O'Reilly, Noel Acciari and Michael Bunting made up the third trio.
Keefe also moved T.J. Brodie to the left side of defence beside Justin Holl. Morgan Rielly and Luke Schenn stayed together, but Jake McCabe and Timothy Liljegren made up a new third pair.
"Just trying to change the chemistry of the group," Keefe said. "We have lots of flexibility."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 9, 2023.
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Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press