The Leafs Nation can breathe a sigh of relief ahead of the Game 3 in Toronto, defenseman Nikita Zaitsev will be back in action tonight.
And not a moment too soon!
Toronto’s blueline was looking a bit thin when Roman Polak’s post-season was cut short after a nasty ankle twister happened in Game 2. Zaitsev has been out of the lineup since Toronto’s last game of the regular season, sidelined with an upper-body injury sustained in that final game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Zaitsev’s Stanley Cup Playoff debut comes in what will likely be a pivotal game in the opening round Playoff series between Toronto and the Washington Capitals. Billed by most as also-rans, the Leafs surprised everyone outside of Toronto by playing a tight couple of games in Washington, and knotted the series at 1-1 in spectacular, double-overtime fashion in Game 2.
The Maple Leafs defensive pairings looked like this in practice this morning:
While the official word that Zaitsev is ready to play came out today, the Russian blueliner all but confirmed his game-ready status on Twitter yesterday. Posting a video of himself skating hard in practice, Zaitsev’s agent was quick to spread the word that he would be back in the lineup “very soon”.
With their hard-earned win Saturday night, the return of a top-pairing defenseman in Zaitsev, and the Leafs first playoff game in the Air Canada Centre since 2013, Toronto has all the momentum heading into Game 3. The team that many billed as having nothing to lose in the playoffs will try and take a lead in the series against the team that has everything to lose in the first round.
The Maple Leafs take on the Washington Capitals in Game 3 tonight, Monday April 17th.