Maple Leafs’ Morgan Rielly calls his shot on John Tavares’ big night
TORONTO – Morgan Rielly flashed a wry smile to reporters Saturday when discussing his rather humbling interactions with the excited kids invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ annual Easter Seals skate.
“I got some interesting questions. Mostly about when I’m going to score,” Rielly revealed to the scrum. “Harder-hitting questions than you guys ask sometimes.”
So… what did you tell the children? When are you going to score?
“Tomorrow night, obviously,” Rielly deadpanned.
While the Leafs’ No. 1 defenceman might not be prolific this season, he is certainly prophetic.
“Yes,” Rielly admits, the big doughnut to the immediate right of his games-played column had been weighing on his mind.
Even if, as coach Sheldon Keefe and several teammates note, you wouldn’t know it from his attitude, interactions, and body language around club headquarters.
But how could it not be stressing the onetime 20-goal man out?
Rielly’s 35-game drought coincided neatly with the start of his juicy new, eight-year, $60-million contract. He had racked up more assists (21) than any other goal-less NHLer, and yet his first 68 shots on net were all turned away.
Well, 69 did the trick.
On Sunday, true to prediction, Rielly pounced on a puck whacked into the slot from a forechecking Michael Bunting, snapping the thing clean and high past Washington Capitals netminder Darcy Kuemper for what would stand as the winner.
“Just relief,” Rielly exclaimed of the feeling as he extended both arms higher than a crossbar and looked to the heavens before getting swallowed by all the eager hockey hugs.
“The guys were excited on the bench,” Keefe said. “Mo’s an important player for our team. So for him that have a bit of a relief there, I think, it’s felt throughout the team.”
Ilya Samsonov perked up when asked about Rielly: “Oooh, I’m so happy for him. I waiting for this one. You know, in the practice, he’s shooting so hard.
“This goal will get confidence for him.”
Rielly’s relief was but one cause for the celebration Sunday, which marked the 1,000th game of hometown captain John Tavares’s tremendous career.
Toronto allowed the evening’s first goal, a Nicklas Backstrom power-play marker in the first period, only to come stomping back with four unanswered in a dominant second frame and chase Kuemper from the paint midway through its efficient 5-1 beatdown of Washington.
The Caps — champions five years ago and still clinging to the postseason race — looked sluggish and overwhelmed by comparison.
“They’re high octane,” said Washington coach Peter Laviolette, motioning down the hall.
One of the Leafs’ smoothest engines is Tavares, who is humming once again at an 80-point pace and chipped in with a pair of assists on his big night.
The captain estimated he had more friends and family members in attendance to support him Sunday than at any other game in his storied career.
He thanked the Maple Leafs and Islanders for believing in him; his wife, Aryne and their two young sons, Jace and Axton (who were also gifted size-appropriate silver sticks) for their sacrifices; and his parents, Joe and Barbara, for doing everything possible so he could chase his passion.
“It’s a tremendous honour. Just hard to put into words. Not gonna lie. Just have a lot of gratitude,” Tavares said. “You love to play this game as a kid. You dream about playing in the NHL. To think that you get to do it for a thousandth time is pretty remarkable. You don’t take that for granted.”
Just as Rielly won’t take his next goal for granted.
“Felt good. Got some good karma yesterday from Easter Seals. I was out there with those guys a lot and smiling, so I think that’s what it was,” Rielly figured.
Plus, he promised the children.
“I wouldn’t call it a promise,” Rielly downplayed.
“It was more of a hopeful guess.”
Fox’s Fast 5
• What about Bunting? What sorts of questions did the Easter Seals youngsters have for him?
“I had a lot of kids asking me to chirp them.”
• If — hypothetically speaking! — the Maple Leafs were to buyout the final season of Matt Murray’s contract, he’d only cost them $687,500 against the cap in 2023-24.
He’d also cost a $2 million against the cap in 2024-25. However, the ceiling is expected to make a significant jump by then.
• Pretty cool to see Nicklas Backstrom score his first goal since his drastic off-season hip-resurfacing surgery.
“This was kind of like the last resort. Unproven technology, I want to say, for sports,” Backstrom told reporters during a lengthy rehabilitation that had some doubting whether he’d play again.
“I had to do it because I had no other choice. It’s either that or I’ll skate on one leg again.”
Ryan Kesler underwent the same procedure on his hips and never played again.
• T.J. Brodie had not missed a single game as a Maple Leaf until this season, when he’s been sidelined twice.
Making his return after three weeks on the shelf, Brodie said that “an elbow or a butt end” damaged his rib and that the mental aspect of missing time with these injuries has been more difficult that the physical part.
• Outside of John Carlson, the Capitals don’t have a single NHL defenceman signed beyond this July.
Minute-munchers Dmitry Orlov, Nick Jensen, Trevor van Riemsdyk, and Erik Gustafsson are all impending UFAs.
Will be interesting to see whom GM Brian McLellan can afford to keep.
Maple Leafs @ Islanders 3/21 | NHL Highlights 2023 – NHL
Japan's Shohei Ohtani named WBC MVP after historic performance at plate, on mound – Sportsnet.ca
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Need to Know: Bruins vs. Senators
BOSTON – The Bruins will be back on home ice on Tuesday night as they return from a lengthy five-game road trip to host the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden. Boston has bounced back to win three straight after a brief lull in its record-breaking season produced a stretch of three losses in four games.
“Hold ourselves accountable,” Matt Grzelcyk said of how the Bruins have rebounded quickly from the downturn. “And I feel like that Winnipeg game, we got a huge goal second shift, I think that just kind of starts getting things going the right way – and having that more attacking mentality offensively, defensively, taking time and space away from them. And I think it was a good transition and that’s when we could kind of overwhelm teams.”
Here’s everything else you need to know ahead of the 7 p.m. ET puck drop on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub:
On the Injury Front
Derek Forbort did not take part in the morning skate and is unlikely to play again before the postseason, per coach Jim Montgomery. The blue liner suffered a lower-body injury after blocking a shot on March 16 in Winnipeg.
“We do not expect him back before the end of the regular season,” said Montgomery, who added that Forbort does not require surgery.
Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno, both of whom have been out for nearly a month with lower-body injuries of their own, have resumed skating. Foligno took the ice on his own ahead of Tuesday’s morning skate, while Hall joined his teammates donning a maroon non-contact jersey.
“They’re checking boxes and are progressing well, but there’s no timeline for them yet,” said Montgomery. “I still think they are a ways away. It’s not at the point where I’m starting to think about lines and stuff.”
When they do return, however, Montgomery is eager to have plenty of options up front.
“I don’t think it’s a problem. It’s a great situation,” he said. “You’ll get to see when they get back who plays with who, and a deep lineup is going to get even deeper. So, it’s a great problem to have.”
After sitting out Sunday’s game in Buffalo, David Krejci (soreness) and Dmitry Orlov (defense rotation) will be back in the lineup. A.J. Greer and Jakub Zboril will be the healthy scratches.
The Senators, on the second end of a back-to-back, snapped a five-game losing streak on Monday night with a 2-1 win over Pittsburgh. The recent downturn has pushed Ottawa (34-31-5, 73 points) six points behind Florida for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
After winning the first two games against the Bruins this season – both on home ice – the Senators fell to Boston, 3-1, on Feb. 20 at TD Garden.
“I think they won [on Monday night], so they’re probably feeling pretty good about themselves,” said Grzelcyk. “Every game probably feels pretty close to a playoff game and they haven’t been there in a few years. They’ve got a lot to prove and they’ve got a lot of young talent…a good power play.
“We’ve got to stay disciplined, something we’ve lacked in a little bit recently. I’ve got to be mindful of that and I don’t want to give them any easy opportunities. And they played last night, so get on them early and make them work for it.”
Ottawa is paced by Tim Stutzle, who leads the club with 35 goals and 78 points in 66 games. Brady Tkachuk (30-42-72) has also hit the 30-goal, 70-point plateau, while Claude Giroux (28-30-68), Alex DeBrincat (21-35-56), and Drake Batherson (21-34-55) have reached the 20-goal mark.
Tuesday’s Projected Lineup
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
Tyler Bertuzzi – Charlie Coyle – Trent Frederic
Jakub Lauko – Tomas Nosek – Garnet Hathaway
Matt Grzelcyk – Charlie McAvoy
Hampus Lindholm – Brandon Carlo
Dmitry Orlov – Connor Clifton
Linus Ullmark/Jeremy Swayman
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Need to Know: Bruins vs. Senators