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Edmundson returns to Leafs lineup after frustrating injury absence

Joel Edmundson Toronto Maple Leafs Joel Edmundson - The Canadian Press

The Maple Leafs (optional) and New Jersey Devils skated at Scotiabank Arena on Thursday. 


Joel Edmundson has missed more games (eight) than he's played (seven) since being acquired in a trade by the Leafs on March 7. 

"It's definitely frustrating, but we have so many solid defencemen that can jump in," the 6-foot-5 blueliner said. "They've been playing solid, so definitely makes it a little easier, but it's never fun watching hockey. If it was playoffs, I would've played right through it. It wasn't that big of an injury. We just wanted to make sure I was 100 per cent before getting back."

Edmundson, who last suited up on March 24, will return to the Leafs lineup on Thursday night. The team never disclosed the nature of the injury, and all Edmundson would say is it was the result of a blocked shot.  

"I've been able to skate for the past couple of weeks, so feeling good," he said. 

Edmundson appeared to be hitting his stride before getting hurt. The 30-year-old received the team's player-of-the-game belt for setting the tone physically during a win over the Edmonton Oilers on March 23. 

"It is great to see him back for sure, especially for a guy who is still new to our team," said coach Sheldon Keefe. "To have him miss time is tough, and to get him back in the mix is good. He has been managing this well. He has been back on skates for a while. We've been giving him time to be certain that things are good. It will be nice to get him back in and get him those reps that he needs, and we need to have with him."

The Leafs have four games left in the regular season, which gives Edmundson some runway to get up to speed. 

"It's huge," he said. "We're playing some teams that are out of the playoffs, but we just got to focus on our game and make sure we're preparing well and go into the playoffs flying. You want to have that confidence ready for that first game."

The Leafs held an optional skate so it's unclear who Edmundson will partner with against the Devils. He had been playing with Timothy Liljegren before the injury. Liljegren is now sidelined with his own injury. 

The time off from game action did give Edmundson, who started the season with the Washington Capitals, a chance to get settled a bit more in Toronto. 

"Big time," he said with a smile. "Now that the sun's out I get to tour around the city, so I was up in Yorkville yesterday checking that out. I went to High Park and just getting the full experience in Toronto."

Conor Dewar, who was also acquired by the Leafs just before the deadline, recently said the city's traffic has been tough to get used to.  

"I actually haven't found it too bad," Edmundson said. "I'm close enough that I can walk to some games, so I'm fortunate for that. I'm right beside the baseball stadium, so traffic hasn't been too bad for me."

ContentId(1.2102957): 'If it was playoffs, I would've played': Edmundson back in for Leafs


Ilya Lyubushkin, another recently acquired defenceman, is finding it difficult to be away from his family. His wife and two sons remained in California after the Anaheim Ducks sent the burly blueliner to Toronto on Feb. 29. 

"It's hard," Lyubushkin admitted. "It's hard situation, but I try to focus on the game. My wife is pregnant now. It could be any day."

The geography doesn't make it easy to get back for the birth. The Leafs have another game at home on Saturday before heading south to wrap up the regular season with games at Florida and Tampa Bay next Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"It's tough," the 30-year-old said. "I hope it can happen before playoffs and I can take a couple days to see my new daughter. It's hard, trust me, but nothing we can do."

The playoffs are scheduled to start on April 20. 

"I have to be professional, and my wife knows this," Lyubushkin said. "Before this trade, I spoke with her and she said, 'It doesn't matter. You have to go and play. It's your career.' I have a good wife. She takes care of home, takes care of kids."

Lyubushkin's sons are six and eight and just celebrated birthdays. He FaceTimes with them every day. 

"Fun age," he said. "It's nice, because they started to help my wife now."


Lyubushkin will draw back into the lineup on Thursday after sitting out the game in New Jersey. 

Conor Timmins will be a healthy scratch and Jake McCabe will also come out of the lineup on defence. 

"It is just a maintenance day for Caber," said Keefe. "He has played through a lot of bumps and bruises all through the season. He has played a lot for us. It is a very busy stretch of schedule for us. It is a chance for us to give him a breath."

McCabe is averaging 21 minutes and 10 seconds of ice time in 64 games since returning from a groin injury on Nov. 10. He leads the team in blocked shots in that time and is second in hits. McCabe is also second in the NHL in hits taken, per 

"Caber has played a lot and done a lot for us this season," said Keefe. "Quite honestly, I don't know that he has played a lot of games at 100 per cent. He has played through a lot of stuff this season – nothing that has held him back from playing, but he has played through a lot. Giving him a chance to breathe is good."

McCabe did take part in the optional skate.

ContentId(1.2102990): Leafs Ice Chips: Maintenance for McCabe; Devils plan to show character


Toronto's top line – Auston Matthews between Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi – didn't like the way they started Tuesday's game.

"We knew we had to be better as a line," Bertuzzi said. "Maybe a few things were said, but we all knew we needed to be better, and we went out and we were."

Bertuzzi scored in the second period while Matthews provided the insurance goal in the third period. Domi set up both goals. 

"The chemistry is really good," said Keefe. "I think they are really enjoying playing together. You see it in their play. I also think they have high expectations of themselves because of how they have played. When things are not going well, such as the first period, they want to make adjustments and succeed."

Bertuzzi added the empty netter. Matthews, who is chasing 70 goals, didn't get on the ice with the goalie pulled and Toronto leading 4-2. The Leafs were killing a late penalty. 

"I know whether Auston should've been on with the goalie out got lots of play," Keefe said unprompted on Thursday morning. "He was going to be out. He was the next man up. He was not going to be out there 4-on-6 – it is not a situation he plays in, and to me, that would be forcing it. At 6-on-5, he was the next guy up. We just didn't get the line change we wanted at the time."

Matthews is looking to become the first player to reach 70 goals in a season since Teemu Selanne and Alexander Mogilny potted 76 in 1992-93.

ContentId(1.2102945): Keefe explains why Matthews didn't get on with goalie pulled in NJ

Matthews has scored in six straight games and is up to 66 goals on the season. 

"It seems like he scores every game so hopefully he gets to 70," said winger Nick Robertson. 

"It's amazing," said goalie Joseph Woll. "Each time he scores, it makes me smile back there. I'm cheering for him as much as anyone."

How does Matthews keep the hype from getting to him? 

"The process is the same every night," the 26-year-old said. "I find when you really overthink it and kind of almost want it too much, it almost doesn't go your way. So, I just try to approach every game the same."

"It is already remarkable what Auston has accomplished," said Keefe. "The number continues to grow. No one in the league has reached this number, which is terrific to watch. Auston is feeling really good right now. He has lots of energy. You can see it in his play. Talking to him, you can see it. You can see the way he interacts with his teammates. He is playing with a free mind. You can see it out there."

Matthews has scored in nine of 11 games, including two against the Devils. 

Devils forward Jesper Bratt calls Matthews "one of the best goal scorers the game has ever had." Matthews' latest goal broke the salary-cap era record for a single season, which had been held by Alex Ovechkin

"It's obviously it's pretty clear to see his shot, but at the same time, I've played against him now two games pretty close on each other. He's one of the best centres in the league defensively too," Bratt said. "He's hard to play against. He's strong. You don't get a lot of space on him."

Matthews has dominated the Devils in his career with 16 goals in 17 games.

ContentId(1.2102989): Bratt calls Matthews 'one of the best goal scorers the game has ever had'


Domi is up to 34 assists in 5-on-5 play this season. Only Edmonton's Connor McDavid, Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, Colorado's Nathan MacKinnon and Edmonton's Leon Draisaitl have more. 

"He's got such great vision, and he can just thread needles out there," said Matthews. "And just a super easy guy to play with as well, just try to feed off each other. It's not a whole lot of one on one out there. I think it's a lot of give and go and just trying to use each other and move into the space."

Domi leads the Leafs with 21 primary assists in 5-on-5 play this season. 

"He has that ability and skill, and then there is confidence," Keefe said. "He is a veteran in the league. He believes he can make a difference, and that confidence shines through at any moment. He is a competitor, and the opposition can bring whatever they want. His confidence doesn't get shaken based on what the opposition is doing."

ContentId(1.2102502): Toronto's top-line accountability allows Domi to 'thread needles'


He didn't hit the scoresheet, but left winger Matthew Knies was all over the ice on Tuesday. 

"Knies was outstanding," Keefe raved. "I loved his game. He was physically dominant. He was on the puck. He was quick. They couldn't handle him. That is a really positive sign."

"Just playing simple," Knies said. "Playing hard, being physical. I think our line did a great job of playing below the goal line and getting opportunities by the net." 

It's been an up-and-down season for the 21-year-old, who is adjusting to the grind of the NHL. Knies joined the Leafs late last season after his University of Minnesota Golden Gophers lost in the NCAA national championship game. He got into three NHL regular season games and seven playoff games. 

Knies played 40 games last season in college. Thursday's game will be his 77th this season. 

"There's been learning curves," the Phoenix native said. "I've made some mistakes, but I've come back from that. I think I've grown a lot in my game and matured a lot. It's good. It's good to see the trend is going upwards and it's only getting better."

Knies has three goals and four assists in the past eight games since being dropped to the third line. He spent most of the season on the top line with Matthews. 

"I've learned from a lot of great leaders in here and made some incredible friendships along the way," Knies said. "It's been fun and a pleasure playing so far in the NHL. Just looking forward to playoffs and to get another opportunity to play for the Stanley Cup." 

ContentId(1.2102956): 'Physically dominant' Knies breaks through rookie wall with Leafs


Tuesday's loss eliminated New Jersey from playoff contention. 

"It's no secret that it sucks the position we're in," said winger Timo Meier. "But we have three games here to go and it shows what character you have the way you finish a season and the way you play ... Find a way to motivate yourself, be excited, and just go out there and work hard. I think that's the biggest thing."

Jack Hughes, who's tied for the team lead with 25 goals, underwent shoulder surgery on Wednesday and is done for the season. 

"You worry about a mental letdown," acknowledged interim head coach Travis Green. "But it goes back to what we've talked about from Day 1, our identity and being a team that can win long-term, win in the playoffs. For me, that comes from a natural willingness to win no matter what you're doing. When you love winning and you're ultra-competitive, it doesn't really matter if you're playing hockey or playing checkers, you're going to play the right way."


Liljegren (upper body) joined the Leafs on the ice on Thursday morning.  

"I haven't gotten the report on how today has gone, but it seems like he was feeling well," said Keefe. "He will be in practice tomorrow. We will take it a day at a time from there."

Liljegren last played on March 26.

ContentId(1.2102956): 'Physically dominant' Knies breaks through rookie wall with Leafs


Ilya Samsonov was the first goalie off the ice at Thursday's skate and is projected to start against the Devils. 

Jake Allen will be back in for the Devils.


Devils lines at skate: 

Clarke - Hischier - Bratt 
Meier - Haula - Mercer
Palat - Bowers - Holtz
MacDermid - Tierney - Foote

Hughes - Marino 
Bahl - Smith 
Siegenthaler - Nemec 

Allen starts