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Kyle Connor of the Winnipeg Jets looks to take a shot against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period in an NHL game at Scotiabank Arena on Jan. 24 in Toronto.Claus Andersen/Getty Images

As far as redemption projects go, Ilya Samsonov is very much still a work in progress, but three games into his comeback tour, he’s getting a passing grade.

The latest test for the Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender came Wednesday night at home against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that had gone 8-2-0 in its previous 10 games and has flirted with the overall lead in the NHL this season. Samsonov was more than equal to the task, however, making 32 saves for his first shutout since Dec. 9 against Nashville as the Leafs prevailed 1-0 in overtime, courtesy of Auston Matthews’s 39th goal of the season.

However, despite adding one more goal to his NHL-leading total, there was no question in Matthews’s eyes who had put in the star turn of the evening.

“I thought he was the best player on the ice by far,” the American said of his goalie afterwards, after scoring his 11th career OT goal, moving clear of William Nylander for second on the franchise list behind Mats Sundin’s 14.

Having endured the toughest few months of his five-year NHL career, which led to him being placed on waivers and demoted to the American Hockey League for a conditioning stint just a few weeks ago, Samsonov earned first-star-of-the-game honours on Wednesday after his second shutout of the season and 12th of his career.

Partway through the second period, having turned away three shots in quick succession following a 2-on-0 breakaway, Samsonov was serenaded by chants of “Sammy! Sammy” from the same crowd that had booed him just over a month ago.

“I almost cry ... It’s important for me, like, long time I didn’t listen to this,” he said after the game.

As you might expect for a team that has averaged 3.27 goals against per game – 12th worst in the NHL – there is no such thing as easing a goaltender back into the fray, even a fragile one making just his second start in six weeks in front of the sometimes-fickle fans at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena.

Graciously, Winnipeg allowed the Russian netminder a routine sighter a couple of minutes after puck drop, and then the onslaught began.

With five minutes on the clock, the Jets could easily have gone in front but for the timely intervention of Samsonov. Morgan Rielly had the puck stolen off his stick by Rasmus Kupari, with the Finnish centre weaving around some Leaf defenders in the slot before drawing a fine pad save.

The defensive turnovers would be a familiar theme throughout the opening frame, with the Maple Leafs blueliners finding it increasingly hard to clear their zone.

In all, Samsonov made 16 saves in the first period – the same number he had the entire game in Sunday’s win in Seattle. As they say, start as you mean to go on.

“Perfect,” was how Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe described his netminder’s play. “Ilya was excellent from start to finish. He was good early in the game when they were shooting the puck from everywhere on the sides, he was great there, and then he was obviously great on the few high-end chances that they had, he was terrific. Just another building block for him, he just looks as confident as ever.”

With the win in Seattle, Samsonov seemed to be putting his recent travails behind him – when his save percentage dropped to dead last in the NHL among qualified starters and led to his conditioning stint in the AHL.

But Wednesday’s game proved a timely reminder of the abilities that Leafs fans came to know last season, when he helped the club into the second round of the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

“Credit to him for putting in the work,” Keefe said. “I think virtually everyone I’m sure had counted him out and written him off. Obviously even internally there were questions over how is he going to bounce back? Credit for him for staying with it, credit to all the people and the resources around him to help him, support him, put together a plan for him, how they were going to manage his time away from the team.”

Having talked about the opportunity to play against one of the NHL’s best teams – the Jets entered the contest with the third-best record in the league – Keefe would have been disappointed with how his team responded to the challenge.

Toronto had earned a split on the four-game Western trip that ended last Sunday, with a win in Calgary as well as Seattle, and Keefe had accentuated his team’s positives over that stretch, despite a middling 5-4-1 record over its past 10 games.

Facing a home-and-home series against Winnipeg, with the return game at Canada Life Centre on Saturday, an opportunity seemed to present itself for Toronto. The Jets’ all-star goaltender, Connor Hellebuyck, was given the night off, with backup Laurent Brossoit thrown into the fray. They caught another break midway through the second period, too, when the Jets announced that Josh Morrissey, one of their top-pair blueliners, wouldn’t return after picking up a lower-body injury.

But Brossoit, whose .923 save percentage entering the game was only two percentage points less than Hellebuyck’s, was more than a match for the Leafs’ potent offence for the most part, making 29 saves.

With 35.1 seconds to play, the Jets were handed a golden opportunity when Calle Jarnkrok was penalized for tripping Mason Appleton, and the subsequent power play carried over to the overtime period.

Samsonov refused to buckle though, twice denying all-star Kyle Connor in the early going of the extra period.

That set the stage for Matthews, who took tapped in a cross-crease pass from Reilly for the win.

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