'Unstoppable' Samsonov puts rough game behind him in win over Devils

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J.J. Regan
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'Unstoppable' Samsonov rebounds from rough game vs. Islanders originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

On Thursday, the Capitals had a disastrous loss to the New York Islanders. Washington gave up eight goals and Ilya Samsonov was in net for six of them. That is exactly the type of night that can erode a goalie's confidence and be tough to bounce back from.

On Sunday against the New Jersey Devils, however, in his first start since Thursday, Ilya Samsonov did more than just put that game behind him. He turned in one of his best performances of the season to backstop Washington to a 5-4 win and a season sweep of New Jersey.

You may look at the final score and see four goals for the Devils and wonder just how good a game could it have been? Make no mistake, Samsonov was brilliant.

"He made so many great saves, both when we were on the PK and a couple backdoor tap-ins that he made great saves on," Carl Hagelin said. "He was a big key that we won today and hope he continues doing that for us.”

Samsonov made 35 saves as the Devils poured the shots on from every which way. At the end of the first period, the game was tied at 1 despite Washington getting outshot 17-5. Samsonov was even more spectacular in the second period when New Jersey began to tilt the ice heavily in its favor.

"You could tell we were feeling the effects of three games in three-and-a-half days and credit to the guys for battling through, but in a game like that if you’re goaltending can be the best player, and he was, he’ll give you a chance," head coach Peter Laviolette said. "So I thought there were some incredible saves [Samsonov] made along the way.”

Samsonov came up with a number of highlight-reel saves, but the best was clearly his highway robbery of Damon Severson late in the second. Jack Hughes fed Severson who was alone on the backdoor for what looked like an easy goal.

Instead, Samsonov stretched out the glove for the amazing save. The save was so amazing, in fact, that Severson went down the tunnel immediately after the play and obliterated his stick in frustration.

That save and the momentum it provided the team may have proven to be the key moment of the game.

"He gives us a boost and as a team you realize you can’t be giving up those chances the way we did," Hagelin said. "And usually after that we start turning the momentum our way and playing more in their zone and realizing how hard we have to play. It is a tough league, if you don’t play hard you are going to give up chances so those details are important and when he makes those big stops for us it is always like we get more dialed in.”

At the end of 40 minutes, Washington held a 3-2 lead, but Samsonov had to stand on his head to get them there already with a full night's work of 29 saves. Less than six minutes into the third, the Caps extended their lead to 5-2.

Washington would ultimately walk away with a one-goal victory and everyone after the game knew why.

"I think Sammy today was unstoppable," Alex Ovechkin said. "Obviously he gave us the victory."

The game was not just important for the two points the team earned in the standings or for the season sweep. It was important because it showed a young goalie putting a bad loss behind him and responding with one of his best games of the season. That's a trait you'll need in the Stanley Cup playoffs. 

On Thursday against the Islanders, Samsonov took an accidental hit up high from T.J. Oshie just 30 seconds into the game. He came out in order to undergo the league's concussion protocol, but returned later in the first after he was cleared. But he never looked like he was able to get his game right and ended up surrendering six goals on 24 shots.

"I think for him, it was hard game on the Island," Ovechkin said. "He get a hit, coming back and kind of not the same like regular Sammy, right?"

Any lingering effects of the hit certainly seemed to be gone based on Sunday's performance.

As the Caps continue their march towards the playoffs, Samsonov looks more and more like the No. 1 goalie the team hoped he would be heading into the season. If the team's Stanley Cup hopes do indeed rest on the 24-year-old's shoulders, having a short memory is an important skill to have.

Every goalie in the NHL will, at some point, suffer through nights like the one Samsonov had on Thursday. Not all of them can respond the way that he did on Sunday. That's the difference between a backup who plays sparingly and a starter who can be relied upon in the next game regardless of what happened in his previous start.

"[Samsonov] gave us a chance to win a hockey game tonight," Laviolette said.