WASHINGTON, D.C. — Washington Capitals netminder Ilya Samsonov smiled and admitted he was emotional as he heard his nickname “Sammy” echo through Capital One Arena during Game 3 against the Florida Panthers.
The 25-year-old also earned first-star honors and his first playoff win after a stellar performance against Florida to lead the Capitals to a 6-1 win for the series lead.
“I was close to crying… it was important, too. Thank you, team. A lot of blocks today. It’s more important we play together, and we got great result,” Samsonov said.
Going into the postseason, Samsonov had split the season down the middle with Vitek Vanecek, who ultimately won the No. 1 spot to open the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite not being named the starter, he stayed prepared.
“I am ready all the time. Sometimes you start playoffs, sometimes another goalie, but you need to get ready for every game,” Samsonov said. “I understand if you want to win, you need to win 16 games. This is long period, and you need to get ready for sure.”
In the end, that preparation paid off — and had to pay off — for the Capitals. Vanecek had a rough go-of-it in Game 2 and was pulled after 40 minutes in favor of Vanecek, who stopped 17 shots in relief of the Czech netminder. And ultimately, Samsonov earned the nod from head coach Peter Laviolette in Game 3.
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Samsonov’s strong play carried over, as he overcame early nerves to impress in his fifth-ever postseason appearance. After a quick goal against to open the game, he tightened up and was perfect after the first three minutes. He ended up with 29 saves on 30 shots (.967 save percentage), and his play also sparked the team.
“[I was] a little bit nervous the first five minutes, but it’s just normal for a goalie,” Samsonov said. “But after a couple saves, I feel pretty good physically, mentally. Yeah, I’m okay.”
“Sammy was unbelievable for us tonight, he kept us in it when we needed to,” Marcus Johansson added. “That’s the way you need these games to go. He makes a big save and then we go the other way and get one, it makes a big difference.”
Overall, Samsonov said that getting some playoff action last year was beneficial, and the support from the D.C. home crowd made a major impact to boot.
“This is huge,” Samsonov said. “Last year was an important playoff for me, too. I more understand what’s going on. How you need to ready for playoffs, and we have huge fans today. They were like sixth player. It was unbelievable to see and listen. I want to say thank you again.”
Washington will hold an optional skate on Sunday and return for Game 4 on Monday at Capital One Arena. The Capitals hold a 2-1 series lead.