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Frederik Andersen’s injury is bad for the Leafs, but it could have been worse

Toronto Maple Leafs goalier Frederik Andersen makes a glove save against the Boston Bruins, March 20, 2017.

John E. Sokolowski/USA Today Sports

It may not seem like it to Toronto Maple Leafs fans, but the Frederik Andersen injury scenario is playing out as best it can.

First, it appears Toronto's No. 1 goaltender dodged a serious head injury when he banged helmets with Buffalo Sabres forward William Carrier Saturday, even if Andersen can't play against the Florida Panthers Tuesday night.

Second, he should be back on the ice for the most crucial part of the Leafs' regular season – five games in seven nights against tough opponents that will both close out the season and determine their playoff fate.

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That is unless the Leafs beat the Panthers with backup Curtis McElhinney in goal and then get road wins against the Nashville Predators on Thursday and the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday with whoever is in net. Six points would give the Leafs 91, which just might be enough to get them into the NHL playoffs – even if it is the second wild-card spot instead of third place in the Atlantic Division.

Andersen skated with goaltending coach Steve Briere before practice on Monday. Then he took part in the Leafs' 45-minute practice for about 20 minutes before leaving for the dressing room. Jeremy Bettle, the team's director of sports science, and head athletic therapist Paul Ayotte kept a close eye on the goaltender.

Andersen admitted he left the Sabres game after the first period because he hurt his head. But he did not say it was a concussion, nor did he discuss the specifics of his injury. As for the Leafs, they will not offer injury details even on hangnails.

"No, no, I don't want to get too much into that stuff," Andersen said. "I just want to make sure I get back into the net as soon as possible."

There were two hits on Andersen by the Sabres. The first was a sharp banging of helmets between the goaltender and Carrier two minutes and 30 seconds into the game. Later in the first period, Evander Kane fell on Andersen, the impact apparently involving his upper back and shoulder for the most part.

Andersen indicated it was the Carrier hit that did the damage. After discussions with the Leafs' training staff and the Sabres' team doctor (who was responsible for the call on whether Andersen could continue, as the Leafs' doctor was not at the game), Andersen did not return to the game.

"I got bumped pretty early in the game," Andersen said. "I didn't feel right the rest of the period.

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"We discussed with our medical staff and [the Sabres'] doctor and decided to play it safe. I just kind of felt a little bit off and wanted to see what happened in intermission."

He said he "felt pretty good" at practice Monday. "But I'm taking it one day at a time."

Garret Sparks was called up from the Leafs' farm team, the Toronto Marlies, to replace Andersen on the roster. He will back up McElhinney for the Panthers game, and Andersen will be re-evaluated on the days leading up to Thursday's game in Nashville.

There were no audible sighs of relief in the Leafs dressing room on Monday, but there were also no signs of tension.

"It doesn't appear to be long[-term]," head coach Mike Babcock said. "Obviously that's great. The way I look at injuries is it's an opportunity for Mac."

Mac, as in McElhinney, is also looking at this as an opportunity, although perhaps it did not come under ideal circumstances.

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"Yeah, I wouldn't say I necessarily dream about it," he said. "But yeah, it's certainly an opportunity and I'll make the most of it."

The Leafs need him to make the most of it quickly, as avenging the 7-2 loss to the Panthers in their previous meeting – a game on March 14 that started a 4-1-1 run – will solidify their playoff position.

While McElhinney, 33, has posted a respectable .919 save percentage in 10 appearances for the Leafs, he has never been a No. 1 goalie in his 11 or so NHL seasons. Andersen, meanwhile, was getting better as his first season as a No. 1 goalie went along. He posted a nifty .935 save percentage in March with a 2.14 goals-against average and 6-1-2 record.

Lost in the fuss over Andersen was another call-up from the Marlies.

Forward Kasperi Kapanen, another of the Leafs' young speedsters, was called up to play on the fourth line because of injuries to Josh Leivo and Nikita Soshnikov.

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