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Rielly set to return from suspension: 'It's been an opportunity to learn and grow'

Toronto Maple Leafs Morgan Rielly - The Canadian Press

TEMPE, Ariz. — Morgan Rielly broke his silence on Wednesday.

Suspended five games by the NHL's department of player safety after he delivered a cross-check to the head of Senators forward Ridly Greig in the dying moments of Ottawa's 5-3 victory on Feb. 10, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman addressed the situation for the first time.

Rielly, who was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct, lunged at Greig up high after the centre fired a slapshot into an empty net from close range with 5.1 seconds left in regulation.

Greig wasn't injured on the play that led to furious debate about hockey's unwritten rules in the modern game.

"It was just a reactionary thing," Rielly, who has sat out four games, told reporters in Tempe, Ariz., on Wednesday of the play that led to his ban. "I felt like I just wanted to address something. Obviously, it got away from me. It was not intended to be executed the way it was.

"It's been an opportunity to learn and grow a little bit."

Rielly appealed the suspension to commissioner Gary Bettman, who upheld the original ruling during an in-person hearing Friday.

"At that point it's kind of out of your control," Rielly said. "We appealed, and that's about all you can do. We were trying to get it down because I wanted to get back on the ice, but the league made a decision and you've just got to live with it.

"I didn't convince them of anything."

The Leafs went perfect 5-0-0 without Rielly, earning victories over St. Louis (twice), Philadelphia, Anaheim and Arizona.

"If anything, it was a real wake-up call to our team to get real serious about winning, take care of games, and rally around the moment." head coach Sheldon Keefe said after Wednesday's win over the Coyotes.

The 29-year-old Rielly, who leads Toronto with an average of more than 24 minutes of ice time per game, is eligible to return to the lineup Thursday when the Leafs visit the Vegas Golden Knights.