SEATTLE — Another Auston Matthews goal managed to get upstaged by what happened in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ net.
Toronto’s been waiting and hoping for this version of Ilya Samsonov to re-emerge.
Matthews scored his league-leading 38th goal in the first period, Samsonov got his first win since early December, and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Seattle Kraken 3-1 on Sunday night.
Matthews and Mitch Marner combined for another highlight-reel goal, Nicholas Robertson tallied in the second period and Jake McCabe added an empty-net goal with 20 seconds left as Toronto closed out its western swing with a victory.
But it was the performance of Samsonov that mattered more in the bigger picture for Toronto.
“Sammy was lights out for us. He made made some unbelievable saves and just looked really confident, really poised in there,” Matthews said. “It was great to see.”
The Leafs had dropped five of their previous six games, including a loss on Saturday in Vancouver. But Samsonov made a handful of key saves and won for the first time since shutting out Nashville on Dec. 9.
Samsonov finished with just 16 saves, but the overall performance was a major confidence boost after a difficult six weeks that included a demotion to the AHL.
In his previous five appearances coming into Sunday, Samsonov had allowed 24 goals and had a .811 save percentage over that span.
“I think October to a couple of weeks ago this time is probably (the) hardest in my life,” Samsonov said. “But life is moving forward and staying positive. I forgot about what was going on in the past. I’m just focused (on) today.”
Samsonov’s best save came with 6:39 left in the third period when he got a right pad to Justin Schultz’s shot toward an open net. It was Seattle’s first shot of the period as Toronto’s defense suffocated the Kraken in the final 20 minutes.
Jordan Eberle scored for Seattle, and Joey Daccord made 23 saves.
Seattle lost its fourth straight, the previous three coming at the conclusion of the Kraken’s longest road trip of the season and it’s been a stretch where the Kraken have been short-handed. On top of center Matty Beniers and top defenseman Vince Dunn still being out with injuries, the Kraken were without center Yanni Gourde against the Leafs as he served the first of a two-game suspension for charging.
“It’s been tough for this group right now. We just got to find a way,” Eberle said. “We’ve got four games before the (All-Star) break and you look at the standings we’ve got to find a way to take them all. But it starts with stopping the bleeding here and getting one.”
Matthews scored his fifth goal in the past four games, making a nifty move to pull a pass from Marner to his backhand and slide the shot past Daccord’s left pad. It was the 57th time in his career Matthews has scored the game-opening goal, surpassing George Armstrong for third-most in Toronto history.
Robertson made it 2-0 early in the second with his seventh goal of the season. Seattle’s Jaden Schwartz was caught out of position and Max Domi found Robertson down the win on an odd-man rush to give the Maple Leafs the two-goal advantage.
But holding leads has been a problem for Toronto and Seattle pulled within 2-1 on Eberle’s goal with just under six minutes remaining in the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand hit the post on a breakaway moments later and a series of sprawling saves by Samsanov late in the period denied Tomas Tatar a tying goal.
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