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Forget Mitch Marner or John Tavares or Auston Matthews or Morgan Rielly. The Toronto Maple Leafs player under the most pressure as their NHL playoff series against the Boston Bruins series approaches is Frederik Andersen.

For most of the regular season, the Dane was able to cover up the Leafs’ defensive deficiencies with a Vézina Trophy-worthy campaign. He was always in the conversation as the best goaltender in the NHL until March, when he faltered and the Leafs’ defensive problems grew quickly.

If Andersen cannot recapture his form from the first five months of the season, then it means a second consecutive first-round exit at the hands of the Bruins and third in a row over all since he became the No. 1 goaltender for the Leafs. That in turn could cost someone else who is under a great deal of pressure – Mike Babcock – his job as head coach.

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After an excellent regular season, Andersen was inconsistent in last year's playoffs.Jean-Yves Ahern/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

Andersen, 29, said Monday it was hard to accept last year’s loss to the Bruins in the seventh and deciding game of the series, but he did learn something from it.

“After a series when you don’t get the result you want you’re deflated, very emotional, you feel like your life just came to an end,” he said. “Obviously life goes on and your career goes on. Those are bitter lessons to learn and I think you’re better off afterwards.

“You learn what it takes to win a series and how hard you’ve got to play. You can use it either for good or bad, so why not choose to use it for something good? You move on and have that motivating you all summer.”

Nevertheless, there is a limit on looking back to what happened a year ago.

“You don’t want to draw too many comparisons, but you can use your experiences as learning experiences if you can put that to good use,” Andersen said and then made a thin smile. “This one, I don’t think it would be great. You don’t want to look too far behind.

“Even in the regular season, I try not to look behind, try not to look one game behind, even. You want to focus on what you can control going forward. That’s how you get better.”

The hockey aphorism is that the best goaltenders have short memories. Andersen can’t be blamed for not wanting to remember much of last year’s series against the Bruins.

After an excellent regular season – 38-21-5 record, .918 save percentage and 2.81 goals-against average (GAA) – Andersen was inconsistent in the playoffs. He was outstanding in Games 5 and 6 to help the Leafs force a seventh game but then fell flat, letting in two bad goals in the third period to erase a one-goal Leafs lead, including the series-winner.

Fatigue was cited as the big problem since Andersen started 66 games in 2017-18 for the second season in a row. The Leafs hoped to fix this but Garret Sparks was a flop as the backup this season and Andersen’s starts went down by just six games to 60.

The workload may have been a reason for his struggles in March when his save percentage dipped to .890 and his GAA hit 3.64 over 11 starts. But in three games so far in April, Andersen posted a .925 save percentage and 2.62 GAA, numbers more in line with his season’s stats (.917, 2.77). He said he feels fresh heading into the postseason.

Andersen was given one night off last week and then played in the Leafs’ final two games, concluding with a 6-5 shootout loss Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens. He faced 49 shots in that game, including what the Leafs judged to be 15 “Grade A” scoring chances, but won’t play again until the Bruins series opens Thursday night in Boston.

“You know what? We gave up 15 Grade As the other night, but what it was good for is [Andersen] got a lot of rubber,” Babcock said. “I think that was important as well. Now he’s got four days to get ready, so he should be fresh. He’s played enough to have some rhythm.”

Babcock and Andersen are also in agreement about playing at the raucous TD Garden in Boston despite the Leafs’ many disappointments in the place. “It’s a really fun building to play in,” Andersen said. Babcock’s take is just a bit different.

“As much as you say it’s a hostile environment, I’ve never seen a fan play yet,” the coach said. “It’s going to be on the ice for sure, it’s going to be between the teams. They know what we’re about and we know what they’re about. Now we’ve got to go out and execute and make it happen.”

Andersen will also have one more motivating factor, at least for the Leafs’ home games. His father Ernst Andersen, a former goaltender and now a goaltending coach, is an assistant with the Danish national women’s team. Once the women finish their run at the world championships, Ernst and at least some of the family expects to make it to Toronto in time to catch Games 3 and 4.

“You always seem to play with a little bit more excitement when you have people in town you’re close to,” the younger Andersen said. “Hopefully we can all get our families in town and play hard for them.”

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