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Frederik Andersen likely to start Maple Leafs opener

Goaltender practices, appears set to face Capitals on Thursday

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Goaltender Frederik Andersen is likely to start for the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals at Verizon Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; USA, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC) after being a full participant in practice Tuesday.

Andersen, who was scratched from the regular-season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday, left a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday 2:01 into the second period after being bumped in the head by Penguins forward Tom Sestito. Curtis McElhinney replaced Andersen and made 12 saves in the win, which clinched a playoff berth for the Maple Leafs.

 

Though Andersen was not confirmed to start Thursday, all signs pointed to him being ready to play.

"It's good to see him out there stopping the puck," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said. "That would probably be a workload for a guy who hasn't been in the net in a while. In saying that, he should be ready to go."

[RELATED: Complete Capitals-Maple Leafs series coverage]

"The process is going the right way, and if everything goes the right way, [I] can get to play on Thursday," Andersen said.

Asked if he had concussion symptoms following the collision with Sestito, Andersen said, "I'm not going to talk about that in playoffs."

Defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak did not practice Tuesday after each was injured Sunday. Babcock said he is hopeful they will be ready for Game 1 against Washington but did not confirm either would play.

"They didn't practice today, so we'll see if they practice tomorrow," Babcock said. "Obviously both guys are progressing. We're optimistic both guys will be ready, but I can't guarantee anything."

Zaitsev left the game against the Blue Jackets after the first period with an upper-body injury. Polak left the game with about four minutes left in the second period with a lower-body injury. He returned about six minutes into the third period and played one shift before remaining on the bench for the rest of the period.

"They're obviously big parts of our team and our back end, so we're hoping that they're good to go, but we'll wait and see," defenseman Morgan Rielly said. "As players, all we can do is prepare. We had a good practice [Tuesday], we'll practice again [Wednesday], and then we'll travel and get ready to play. Obviously to have those guys would be great, but we'll see how it goes."

With Zaitsev and Polak's status unclear and another practice before Game 1, the pairs at practice Tuesday had Rielly with Alexey Marchenko, Jake Gardiner with Connor Carrick and Matt Hunwick with Martin Marincin.

Forward Tyler Bozak did not practice, but Babcock said his absence was for maintenance. Center Ben Smith skated between James van Riemsdyk and Mitchell Marner in Bozak's absence.

One noteworthy change at practice was Connor Brown and William Nylander switching lines. Brown skated in Nylander's spot on right wing with Zach Hyman and Auston Matthews, and Nylander skated in Brown's spot on right wing with Leo Komarov and Nazem Kadri.

Babcock used these combinations regularly for road games until Marner sustained an upper-body injury Feb. 15. Since Marner returned Feb. 28, Babcock consistently stuck with Nylander on Matthews' right wing and Brown on Kadri's right wing. That change was largely experimental, Babcock said.

"I don't know if I'm going with that line," Babcock said. "Obviously we went a bunch of different ways this year. I just think it's going to be tighter, we might need to be different and so today we practiced like that. We'll see how we practice tomorrow."

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