March 20, 2023
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Erik Kallgren back in the net, Leafs plan another tribute to Borje Salming

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Erik Kallgren will return.

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Assumed Choice between deploying the young netminder on consecutive nightsplay against Matt Murray early against a healing groin injury or try raw rookie Keith Petruzzelli, Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe opted for Kallgren against Vancouver on Saturday.

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The night before, the team’s third manger did a credible job of keeping the Pittsburgh Penguins in check before conceding a feeble winner in a subsequent 4-2 loss.

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“We looked at Matt earlier in the week, but as (Saturday) got closer we wanted to get a better sense of where he stands,” Keefe said after the morning briefings.

The determination was that Murray would benefit from another full practice session on Monday before returning to a game in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, almost a month after suffering an injury in the first week of the season with his new team. The Penguins are his old club, where he won two Stanley Cup championships, and he absolutely wants to be in the right frame of mind for the task, too. Ilya Samsonov, who played so well in Murray’s place last month, is still out with a knee injury.

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Kallgren, with a win in seven games – three of those losses in overtime – was tough on his own after Friday night but all players provided verbal support after the game and into Saturday morning.

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Keefe reiterated this, although it’s unusual for him to use the same goalie in back-to-back games. A home date against the road-weary and frail Canucks looked like a good opener for Petruzzelli, who was having a hot streak with the Marlies when he signed an entry-level contract to back up Kallgren, but looks like he’ll put the 6-foot-5 A Massachusetts native this week was never a serious option.

“First of all, I thought Kallgren had a great game,” Keefe said of his 19 saves from 22 shots on Friday. “That’s another reason for me to use him again. He’s playing as well as he did going back to last season (a record of 8-4-1) and this season.

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“The numbers are what they are (a 0.888 percent saving) but just watching how he moves, how he reacts, I think he gains more confidence and looks stronger. I didn’t hesitate to reset it.

“I wouldn’t think twice about that goal (by Pittsburgh’s Brock McGinn). I’m glad he’s taking charge, that’s what you want, but let’s get over it.”

Keefe said he might have to make a change on Blueline Saturday where Jordie Benn could play.

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Spencer Martin will be in the net for the Canucks, who will also have former Leaf speedster Ilya Mikheyev in their lineup after the winger’s career year made him too expensive for the capped Leafs.

Saturday’s game will also feature a dedicated team tribute to struggling defender Borje Salming, whose recognition as part of the Hall of Fame Game Friday at Scotiabank Arena drew a dry eye. Salming, 71, who battled ALS, stepped onto the carpet with fellow 1970s stars and Hall members Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald and fellow Swede Mats Sundin and waved to the crowd during a loud standing ovation.

Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau, a Toronto native, was Salming’s Leaf roommate during some of his call-ups from the farm.

“It was fabulous,” Boudreau said of Friday’s welcome. “Lots of memories to see him up there and such a well deserved ovation.

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“You could see Darryl crying a little bit and it was special because it took you back to the 70’s and when they were the top three players in the Leafs.

“We didn’t do ice ages back then, but Borje could play 28 or 30 minutes a night and do the same thing the next night. He was in incredible shape.

“He blocked every shot that came his way, made perfect passes right on the tape, very Nick Lidstrom-like. And if he wanted to go, he could go.

“I was lucky enough to score a hat trick one night (December 16, 1977 against the Minnesota North Stars) and he had five assists on all my goals that game. But he was.

“It’s hard in today’s world to describe what he would be like or compare him to anyone else. As he and Inge Hammarstrom passed, they were led by every North American. He would take it and dish it out if he could. But he never cried because it was unfair, he just went through it and that’s why people in Toronto loved him.

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