Morgan Rielly takes a shot from the point for the Leafs
Photo credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs confirm Rielly in vs. Tampa, reveal starting goalie, scratches

Published April 3, 2024 at 1:05 PM
BY RYAN SMITHERAM

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe has confirmed a trio of lineup changes for tonight's game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, including Morgan Rielly's return to action.

Per Keefe, Rielly will make his return to the Leafs' lineup for a crucial game against the Lightning at Scotiabank Arena tonight after missing the past four games with an upper-body injury. To make room for Rielly, the NHL's oldest player, Mark Giordano will be a healthy scratch.

Giordano returned to the Leafs' lineup last Thursday against the Washington Capitals and scored his first goal since the passing of his father mid-February. His return marked the end of a month-long absence due to suffering a concussion against the Arizona Coyotes after crashing into the boards at a high rate of speed.

How will the defensive pairings change with Rielly's return?




For the second time in as many months, Rielly missed 4+ games. The first time, as we know, was for cross-checking Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Grieg. Across 9 games without Rielly over the past two months, the Leafs managed to go 8-1 with a make-shift top pairing that continuously changed. Tonight, we will see Rielly back on the top pair, likely with Ilya Lyubushkin. In pairing Rielly with Lyubushkin, it gives Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe the ability to pair T.J. Brodie and Jake McCabe together and have a surprisingly defensively sound third pairing (according to Naturalstattrick.com) of Conor Timmins and Simon Benoit.

What other lineup changes can we expect tonight?



The Leafs dominated the Florida Panthers for two periods Monday night before a surge from the Stanley Cup Finalists in the third threatened what should have been a surefire Leafs win. With the intensity ramping up as the regular season closes out, it is unlikely that Keefe will make any changes up front. That means that Noah Gregor will remain a healthy scratch in favour of Ryan Reaves, Nick Robertson and Pontus Holmberg, who have all played very well as of late and are projected to remain in the lineup, at least until Mitch Marner returns later this week.

In goal, Ilya Samsonov shone bright through the first 40 minutes in Monday's win, making a number of spectacular saves, including this incredible reach back to snag a puck off the goal line. Unfortunately, the Lightning have had Samsonov's number this season. In both of his previous starts against the Lightning, Samsonov has been pulled in favour of Joseph Woll, who helped the Leafs claw their way back to win both games. Sheldon Keefe is getting out in front of this one tonight and has opted to start Woll tonight. In those two starts, Samsonov gave up 7 goals on 16 shots. Woll on the other hand, has stopped 44 of 45 shots he has faced in relief against Tampa in the pair of wins.



The Leafs and Lightning went to war in a 6-game series in last year's playoffs where the Leafs stole games 3, 4, and 6 in OT from the Lightning and these two teams do not like each other, so we can likely expect another playoff-type atmosphere tonight, similar to what we saw from the Leafs and Panthers on Monday night.

Tampa's Mikhail Sergachev has been very critical of the Leafs and has fired quite a few shots in their direction over the course of the last year, but unfortunately for he and the Lightning, a season-ending injury will mean that he'll miss both tonight's game and their final meeting later this season.

While on the injury front, with Mitch Marner out of the lineup, presumably until this weekend's game in Montreal, the Leafs will have to rely on Auston Matthews, William Nylander, John Tavares and Morgan Rielly to lead by example tonight against the Lightning and for depth players like Bobby McMann, Nick Robertson, and Matthew Knies to continue to contribute the way that they have throughout Marner's lengthy absence.

The Leafs and Lightning are almost certainly not going to face off in Round 1, as the numbers just don't point to that as a likelihood but it's entirely possible that they could meet later in the playoffs. I'm sure both teams will be scouting one another very closely tonight. They also have one more game against one another, though that one won't take place until April 17th in Tampa.

If the playoffs were to start today, the Lightning would draw the Boston Bruins in Round 1, while the Leafs would draw the Panthers. It's worth noting, though, that the Leafs are only 4 points back of the Panthers with 2 games in hand, so home ice in Round 1 for the Buds is still not out of the question.
POLL
April 3   |   469 answers
Leafs confirm Rielly in vs. Tampa, reveal starting goalie, scratches

Will Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe keep Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin together for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Yes33270.8 %
No8919 %
Put Rielly back with Brodie4810.2 %
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