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Lyubushkin good to go as Leafs face Bruins

Ilya Lyubushkin Toronto Maple Leafs Ilya Lyubushkin - Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images

The Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins skated at Scotiabank Arena on Monday. 


Ilya Lyubushkin is ready to return to the Leafs lineup after leaving Saturday's game early. The newly acquired defenceman absorbed a big hit from 6-foot-8 New York Rangers winger Matt Rempe in the second period.

"I saw he's coming, but I don't have the time to protect myself," the 29-year-old said. "It's okay. It's hockey. It happens sometimes."

Head coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned after the game that Lyubushkin, who was playing for the first time since being acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks, was dealing with a head injury. 

"A lot of the discomfort he was feeling was coming from neck and shoulder issues," the coach explained. "All the protocols he was unable to get through on Saturday, he was able to get through yesterday and today as well." 

Lyubushkin skated alongside Morgan Rielly on Saturday and was back in that spot on Monday morning. His arrival gives the Leafs two right-shooting options on defence. That means T.J. Brodie and Rielly can both play on their stronger sides. 

"It looked like it was flowing well," said Keefe. "Talking to [assistant coach] Mike Van Ryn, he felt good just about all three pairs being able to basically play against anybody and just let the guys flow out the door. Brodie and Rielly, it seemed to help them having right-handed partners. It was very encouraging what we saw, for sure."

Lyubushkin was also acquired by the Leafs in the 2021-22 season and stressed that the team still plays a similar system, which is allowing him to hit the ground running. 

"Despite the fact he was working on four, five hours sleep and a three-hour time change, and big trade, and all these kind of things that had happened, and no practice with us, he stepped in and looked very comfortable," Keefe said.

ContentId(1.2084551): Lyubushkin good to go after big Rempe hit; makes immediate impact for Leafs


Lyubushkin's availability means the Leafs will have their optimal lineup in place for Monday's showdown with the Boston Bruins

"I don't think this division is set yet," said Leafs winger Ryan Reaves. "There's going to be some movement, I think. You can potentially play any of these playoff teams, so you have to put your best foot forward. You gotta set the tone. You gotta play physical. You gotta make sure you're playing like a playoff atmosphere."

The Leafs are six points back of the Bruins, but have played two fewer games. The teams will wrap up their season series on Thursday at TD Garden. If the playoffs started today, this would be the 2-3 matchup in the Atlantic Division. 

"A team we're chasing, a couple points back, and they took points off us a couple times this year already," said Reaves. "It's a huge game. It's going to set the tone for the game in their building in a couple days. So, yeah, this is probably the biggest game of the week."

The Bruins beat the Leafs twice earlier this season, once in a shootout and once in overtime. But the teams haven't played since Dec. 2. 

"They look a lot better," said Bruins coach Jim Montgomery. "They do. They're playing offence, defence, special teams, everything's clicking."

Toronto has won nine of 10 games since the Rielly suspension and 13 of 16 games since Jan. 21. 

Meanwhile, the Bruins are in their worst rut of the season and dropped a 5-1 decision at the New York Islanders on Saturday. 

"Getting back to our checking habits," Montgomery said of the focus. "It's probably slipped since the All-Star break. It's a combination of us not delivering the message well enough and the players not executing."

The Bruins are 4-4-5 since the All-Star break and 20th in goals against per game (3.38) in that stretch.  

ContentId(1.2084565): Leafs 'gotta set the tone' in potential playoff preview against Bruins


Full of adrenaline, Reaves didn't get to sleep until 6:30 am on Sunday morning following his much-anticipated fight with Rempe. 

"Honestly, I feel like the media hyped it up so much that the first period was almost, like, okay, let's just get it out of the way," Reaves said. "He said, 'No,' which is completely fine. The game didn't really call for it, so we left it alone."

After the hit on Lyubushkin, Reaves circled back. Rempe looked at his bench right before dropping the gloves. 

"His coach probably wanted him to take a break," said Reaves. "Good on him for doing it."

It was the fourth fight for the 21-year-old in just seven career NHL games. 

Rempe is the tallest player Reaves has ever tangled with. 

"At the beginning of the fight I didn't throw a lot, because I had to make sure I was holding where I wanted to, make sure I positioned him in the right spot," said Reaves. "At first I think he had me strung out a little bit, so I had to be patient and get his grip off of that, and then once I was comfortable I started throwing."

"He's obviously one of the best fighters if not [the best] in the league right now," said Leafs winger Mitch Marner. "Just how his IQ is when he's fighting, you can see it on the bench, and just his patience with kind of trying to draw people in and then kind of unload. It's always fun watching 75 throw hands."

From the moment Reaves and Rempe shared the ice on Saturday, there was a buzz in the building. 

"There was some anticipation," said Leafs centre John Tavares with a smile. "Everyone was itching for it."

The two combatants actually talked about that while sitting in the penalty box after their bout. 

"He's a really nice kid," Reaves said. "He talked about how the media pumped it up so much. It's two Original Six teams going at it and all everybody was talking about was a fight. But it was cool. Honestly, it was almost cool to see, because it shows that fighting's not dead in this sport. People still kind of get amped up for it and enjoy that part. Yeah, he seems to be a really nice, humble kid. He's going to be a menace in this league." 

"Credit to both those guys," said Tavares. "I don't know how anyone would ever want to drop ‘em with Reavo." 

ContentId(1.2084540): Reaves on buzz about Rempe tilt: 'It shows fighting’s not dead in this sport'


William Nylander was benched for the final seven minutes of the first period on Saturday after his poor play led to New York's opening goal. The winger made a half-hearted attempt at a check on Adam Fox at the defensive blue line before leaving the zone. 

"Each situation is different," Keefe explained. "Each mistake is different. Some are well-intentioned and the play doesn't execute the way you want it to, and something goes wrong. In some cases, it's purposely stepping outside of the structure and the system and that, to me, was what it was the other night. So, that is different than a lot of other situations ... We're increasing the accountability for all of our players in these situations."

Keefe met with Nylander and linemates Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to specifically talk about defensive play on Friday. 

"It is just recognizing when it is time to defend, it is time to defend," Keefe said of the message. "We need to be fully committed on defence when we are defending, especially against good teams like this that counterpunch the way that they do ... I probably wouldn't have been as sensitive to it the other day if it weren't the fact we had the meeting the day before."

Toronto is outscoring the opposition with the Domi line on the ice (7-6), but that trio is getting outchanced (40-58), per 

Alexis Lafreniere had plenty of time to load up from the slot on the Rangers first goal on Saturday. 

"Mistakes are going to happen and it starts with the puck on my stick on that goal," Domi said. "I wasn't able to clear it and then they have a guy in the middle of the ice and a little mix up between me, as a centre, and one of the D, so I'll take that one on the chin for sure. As a line, we just got to support each other and help each other out. Coming back in the D-zone, a little communication and we'll be fine."

After the benching, Nylander scored a big goal in the second period. 

"I love the way he responded," said Keefe. "Great goal — an important goal for us — but I thought he dug in and competed a lot harder."

ContentId(1.2084571): Leafs Ice Chips: Nylander benching a sign of 'increasing accountability'


While it was a mixed bag for the Domi line on Saturday, the Tavares line was dominant. Shot attempts favoured the Leafs 22-7 in the 5-on-5 minutes played by Tavares, Calle Jarnkrok and Bobby McMann.

What worked well? 

"Keeping it simple and just moving our feet," Tavares said. "Earning pucks back. When you do that, especially over the course of a game, you start to earn a little more space, a little bit more opportunity. I think we did a good job as the game wore on. Getting a better feel for each other ... Yeah, something to build on for us for sure."

Tavares came through with a big goal in the third period. 

"With those two wingers, both guys can bust up and down the ice very well," said Marner. "And Johnny, just with his IQ out there, his tipping ability, his shot, he's so good at finding quiet ice, and the other two are there to open that up for him. The three of them worked well and good to see them get a result."

It was Jarnkrok's first game since suffering a broken knuckle at practice on Jan. 26. 

"He was really good for a guy who hasn't played," Keefe said. "Sometimes, when guys don't play, you're rusty, and the timing has to come around for you. But you have energy. The league is hard. As some guys start to wear down a little bit, but he came in and had lots of energy. I thought he was great. That line was outstanding from the start of the game all the way through."

ContentId(1.2084118): 'Something to build on': Tavares line takes off in Jarnkrok's return


Joseph Woll did his usual starting routine at the Leafs morning skate. It looks like he'll get the net against the Bruins even though Ilya Samsonov performed well on Saturday. 

"We’ve got four games in six nights this week and we're going to need both goaltenders," Keefe said. "It's just about playing the calendar and where the games fall and all that. We got two guys that we trust. Woll's played one really good game, I guess two if you include his Marlies game [during a conditioning stint], and you got Samsonov that's been building some great momentum and playing very well. You got Woll, who we got to continue to build starts, and don't want sitting for too long. Really, it's just a decision for us based on the calendar more so the opponent or what's happening here."

Woll stopped 30 of 32 shots in a win over the Arizona Coyotes on Thursday night. It was his first game with the Leafs since suffering a high ankle sprain on Dec. 7. 


Lines at Leafs skate: 

Knies - Matthews - Marner
Bertuzzi - Domi - Nylander
McMann - Tavares - Jarnkrok
Holmberg - Kampf - Reaves

Rielly - Lyubushkin
Brodie - Liljegren
Benoit - McCabe 


Lines at Bruins skate: 

Marchand - Coyle - DeBrusk
Heinen - Geekie - Pastrnak
van Riemsdyk - Boqvist - Frederic
Lauko - McLaughlin - Brazeau

Grzelcyk - McAvoy
Lohrei - Carlo
Wotherspoon - Shattenkirk