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Liljegren, Sandin growth making blueline add a luxury; Leafs vs. Bruins

February 1, 2023, 5:21 PM ET [427 Comments]
Mike Augello
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The Toronto Maple Leafs have an opportunity to close to within single digits of the Atlantic Division-leading Boston Bruins in their final game before the All-Star and nine-day break at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday, but more importantly, the Leafs hope to widen the gap between them and the Tampa Bay Lightning for home-ice advantage in the first round.

The last meeting between the two clubs was a prototypically close contest, with the Bruins winning 4-3 on a late Matt Grzelcyk goal, after imposing their will with a combination of skill and sandpaper for most of the contest and the Leafs attempting to fight through that.

Ilya Samsonov is expected to make his seventh straight start for Toronto, while Boston head coach Jim Montgomery said that he will decide on either Jeremy Swayman or Linus Ullmark closer to game time. Wayne Simmonds is expected to remain in on the fourth line, to provide some pushback after dropping the gloves with former Leaf Nick Foligno last month.


With just over four weeks to go until the deadline, it is still a question mark as to which direction Leafs GM Kyle Dubas will focus his attention, but the improvement of youngsters Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren has made adding a blueliner more of a luxury than a necessity.

Sandin’s offensive production is on pace for more than 30 points this season, his ice time has increased to more than 18 minutes per game (over a minute since last season), and the 22-year-old every once in a while will drop a hard check on an opposing forward, like his hit on Washington’s Conor Sheary on Sunday.

"It's not about hitting people really hard, It's more about playing the right position or (to) knock people off the puck," Sandin said. "Boston is a physical team, they finish checks. So we got to be smart with it, but also match it. We got to cut guys off and slow them down."

Liljegren’s steadiness on the right side and ability to adjust to multiple defense partners has resulted in him leading the club with a +22 rating, something that Sandin joked was due to playing mostly with him.

"(Timothy) ever since I got here, going back to last year, the one thing that sticks out is he's really calm out there." Leafs veteran Mark Giordano said. "(He) plays with a lot of poise and it's really impressive because for a young guy to have that much poise on the ice. It's not an easy thing to do in different situations. I think him and (Rasmus) have been unbelievable this year and when they needed to be called upon to step up in different roles, they have and they've just been solid throughout."

With eight healthy defensemen now that TJ Brodie has returned to the lineup, Dubas may be looking at adding some experienced organizational depth with Victor Mete and Carl Dahlstrom still on LTIR and Mac Hollowell out for the season, but it appears that if Toronto is going to spend assets before March 3, it will be adding a scoring forward capable of playing in their top nine.


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