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Keefe praises Sandin, Liljegren's efforts amid Leafs' blue-line injuries

Kevin Sousa / National Hockey League / Getty

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe had nothing but praise for defensemen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren following a hard-fought victory over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night.

"To me, those guys had an incredible game tonight," Keefe said following the 4-0 win, per The Athletic's Jonas Siegel. "Those two young guys took on a lot here tonight, and they were really, really good."

Keefe also touched on the pair's recent elevated roles as the Maple Leafs have battled three key injuries on their blue line.

"I think you learn a lot about their character," Keefe said. "The team needs them to step up in a big way, and they've done exactly that. Like, those guys played hard today. They played a lot of minutes tired, too."

Sandin and Liljegren were thrust into second-pair duties after veterans Morgan Rielly, Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie went down with injuries in November.

Both youngsters had mainly been deployed in sheltered roles before Toronto's injury crisis, but Sandin and Liljegren have thrived with tougher assignments so far. In seven games together, the pair has only been on for one goal against at five-on-five while owning 56% of expected goals.

Sandin said he and Liljegren are embracing the opportunity.

"It's lots of fun," Sandin noted. "We get to try something out. Usually, we play on the third pairing and (have) a little bit more limited ice time. Now, when some of our key guys (are) gone, it's up to the other guys to step up a little bit as well and try to fill those shoes, and I think we've been doing a pretty good job of it."

Toronto drafted Liljegren (17th overall) and Sandin (29th overall) with first-round picks in 2017 and 2018. They signed matching two-year, $2.8-million extensions this past offseason.

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