The Toronto Maple Leafs are barely hanging onto their precarious playoff position after losing three straight games on a west coast road trip. They’ll get some help tonight however, as defenseman Morgan Rielly will return to the lineup after missing 23 games with a broken foot.
Rielly, who turned 26 just yesterday, is one of Toronto’s most important players and best defenseman. An alternate captain that has been with the team since its darkest days, it is hard to explain just how much the club has missed him over the last two months. With Jake Muzzin also out for most of that time, the Maple Leafs have relied on a patchwork group of young defensemen.
Now, with the season hanging in the balance, Toronto will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning as the first team in a very difficult stretch. The team has 11 games between now and the end of the month, with almost all of those coming against teams either in a playoff position or still battling for one. That includes two games against the Lightning, one against their rival Boston Bruins and another against the Metropolitan-leading Washington Capitals. If there was ever a time when they needed Rielly, it’s now.