Ilya Samsonov on his recovery from coronavirus: 'A really bad sick is COVID'

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J.J. Regan
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Samsonov on his recovery from coronavirus: 'A really bad sick is COVID' originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Capitals goalie Ilya Samsonov came off of the NHL's protocol list on Feb. 8, but did not play in an NHL game again until Feb. 28. Craig Anderson started in the second leg of a back-to-back, Samsonov was sent to Hershey twice for conditioning and the saga stretched out for an additional 20 days in which it was unclear why exactly Samsonov was not playing despite being cleared from the protocol list.

But even after the coronavirus had passed, the effects on Samsonov lingered leading to the drawn-out drama over when he would finally be back in net.

"A really bad sick is COVID," Samsonov said.

Samsonov first tested positive for the coronavirus on Jan. 19, was placed on the NHL's protocol list on Jan. 20 and remained there until Feb. 8. When he was finally cleared, a number of postponements meant the Caps would not play until Feb. 14, leaving plenty of time for Samsonov to practice and get his game conditioning back. Or so we thought.

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Samsonov still battled with the effects of the virus during his return making an additional week insufficient for getting back into NHL game shape. He was sent to Hershey for conditioning and was recalled after two starts. But, with the Caps playing on Feb. 20 and 21, Anderson was given the second leg and Samsonov was sent back to Hershey for more conditioning. It would be another week with two additional starts for the Bears before Samsonov finally took to the crease.

Though Samsonov entered the season as the team's No. 1 in net, Vitek Vanecek's strong play earned him more playing time and trust to the point that it appeared the two would be locked in a goalie competition upon Samsonov's return. Though Laviolette continued to stress the need for Samsonov to get his conditioning back, there was plenty of speculation as to whether Samsonov's back-and-forth with Hershey was due to a lack of trust from the coaches. After all, Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeny Kuznetsov, all of whom entered the NHL's protocol list the same day as Samsonov, had all returned to the lineup by that point.

In reality, however, the work that had to go into recovering from the coronavirus and getting back into game shape proved difficult.

"Really hard to recovery after COVID," Samsonov said. "I have a problem with the breathing, so hard. With time you got some 40 minutes practice, you feel so tired and hard breathe. But right now, feel more and more better every day."

Even in his return, Samsonov did not look like he had regained his form until the second period of Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers. In his first start back against the New Jersey Devils, Samsonov made 19 saves and gave up two soft goals from distance. Against the Flyers, he exposed his 5-hole too long on a 2-on-1, but ultimately rebounded to make 36 saves on 37 shots and earn the win.

"I think I'm 100% ready right now," Samsonov said. "Good shape. Shoulders, everything not hurts. Nothing. Neck is pretty good, too. I'm so happy and feel ready."

Now finally rounding into form, we will get a better look at what exactly Samsonov can bring when he is on his game. The Caps need a No. 1 goalie for the playoffs if they are going to make a deep run. Despite his success, I remain skeptical that Vanecek can be that guy in the postseason when the team will need him most. They need to know if Samsonov can shoulder the load of a No. 1 now with an April 12 trade deadline looming.

Samsonov will start Thursday against the Flyers, coverage begins at 6 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.