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Zaitsev in for Game 3, a big boost for Toronto

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs

TORONTO, CANADA - OCTOBER 02: Nikita Zaitsev #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs shoots and scores a goal during an NHL preseason game against the Montreal Canadiens at Air Canada Centre on October 2, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

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The Leafs received some discouraging news on Saturday night in the aftermath of their thrilling OT win over Washington, when it was announced that Roman Polak was done for the year with a lower-body injury.

On Monday, some much better news.

Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, who missed the opening two games of the series to injury, has been declared fit and ready to play in tonight’s Game 3 in Toronto.
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Zaitsev was hurt in the Leafs’ final game of the regular season, against Columbus. The way he wobbled off the ice after taking a hit from Nick Foligno, it looked like it could be a concussion -- though head coach Mike Babcock wouldn’t say if that was the case.

“The great thing about this medical department is I don’t deal with that part,” said Babcock. “They just tell me he’s not available to go. He’s got an upper-body injury.”
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Zaitsev, 25, had four goals and 32 assists in 82 games this season, paired mostly with Morgan Rielly. He averaged just over 22 minutes per night and, given how things went in Washington, could be in line for an even heavier workload tonight. Games 1 and 2 both went to overtime, and after losing Polak in the aforementioned double-OT Game 2 win, Toronto’s blueliners all logged some serious workloads.

Jake Gardiner finished with a team-high 40:34, and Rielly was right behind at 39:56. Matt Hunwick and Martin Marincin also played 30-plus minutes each.