May 20th, 2024

Auston Matthews returns for Game 7, but Leafs minus injured goaltender Joseph Woll

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on May 4, 2024.

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews (34) celebrates after his goal against Boston Bruins goaltender Linus Ullmark during the third period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series, Monday, April 22, 2024, in Boston. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Charles Krupa

BOSTON – Maple Leafs centre Auston Matthews returned to the lineup for Game 7 against the Boston Bruins on Saturday night.

Toronto was also minus a big piece that helped the club climb out of a 3-1 hole to force the do-or-die tilt – goaltender Joseph Woll was nowhere to be found when the teams headed out for warmups at TD Garden.

The Leafs announced as the players were hitting the ice that the 25-year-old suffered an undisclosed injury in their Game 6 victory. Woll was outstanding in allowing two goals over seven periods of action as part of consecutive 2-1 wins to drag Toronto back into its first-round playoff series, but appeared to hurt himself in Thursday’s dying moments.

He was on the ice for Saturday’s morning skate in the starters’ net. He briefly stayed down on two sequences after moving to his left, but finished the session. Ilya Samsonov, who started the best-of-seven matchup before getting pulled in Game 4, was back between the pipes for Toronto.

The owner of an NHL-topping 69 goals in the regular season, Matthews missed the last two contests after being removed from Game 4 with an illness.

The 26-year-old was on the ice for the morning skate and appeared to be moving well, but head coach Sheldon Keefe seemed to suggest the Leafs were once again preparing to be without their main attraction.

Toronto winger Mitch Marner said Matthews, who arrived at the rink Saturday morning sporting a Star Wars T-shirt, has been handling the absence as expected.

“You’re getting asked 1,000 times a day, ‘How are you doing?'” Marner said. “It’s annoying. He wants to be out there. He’s a hell of a competitor. You’ve seen it at every level.”

Keefe was asked prior to Game 5 if there was something else – namely an injury – bothering Matthews, but he declined to answer directly.

The workhorse forward skated Wednesday at the team’s practice facility in Toronto and again Thursday for about 30 minutes before Game 6.

Woll, meanwhile, started 2023-24 strong with an 8-5-1 record and .916 save percentage before suffering a high ankle sprain in December that sidelined him exactly 12 weeks.

His numbers weren’t nearly as good after returning to action Feb. 29 – 4-6-0 with an .890 save percentage as Toronto leaned on Samsonov down the stretch – but he stepped up in the playoffs with his team in desperation mode.

The Leafs also dealt with the absence of winger William Nylander (undisclosed injury) for the first three contests of the series.

Toronto came back from 3-1 deficits in both 2013 and 2018 against Boston before losing Game 7 on the road. The Bruins also downed the Leafs in a series that went the distance in 2019 at TD Garden.

The winner of Toronto-Boston will meet the well-rested Florida Panthers in the second round beginning Monday after they dispatched the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1.

The three-time Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal-scorer, Matthews had a monster three-point Game 2 to help Toronto even the series with the Bruins, but didn’t look like himself two nights later in a 4-2 loss as he battled the illness that would eventually force him from Game 4.

Toronto is 3-0 this season without Matthews, including two victories facing elimination this week and a 7-0 regular-season triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins in mid-December.

The Leafs entered Saturday with a 1-16 all-time record when trailing a series 3-1, but Boston blew the same lead last season in the first round against Florida.

Matthews became the first NHLer since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 to reach 69 goals, falling one short of becoming the ninth in history to hit 70.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2024.

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