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Marner returns to Leafs practice, but will miss at least two more games


The Maple Leafs practised at the Ford Performance Centre on Friday before travelling to Buffalo. 

How close is Mitch Marner to playing again? 

"Close," the Leafs winger said. "Just take it day by day. Just keep progressing the right way and just be ready when the time comes."

On Friday, Marner practised with the Leafs for the first time since getting hurt on March 7. 

"Mitch looked good today," coach Sheldon Keefe said. "In terms of the next step for him, I would say it's just further participation in practice."

The Leafs next practice is scheduled for Tuesday. 

"I would say once we get into that territory you start to think about when to put him back in, but we're not there yet," Keefe said. 

Marner will miss Saturday's game in Buffalo against the Sabres and Monday's potential playoff preview at home against the Florida Panthers. There will be eight games remaining in the regular season after the showdown with Florida. 

"I'm not so much worried about conditioning necessarily with Mitch," Keefe said. "You want to build up the workload and get used to playing in competitive situations and and all of that and just make sure you're very comfortable. We will just continue to grow his workload through practices, and it's a challenge this time of year, especially because you're trying to prepare the team to play tomorrow night against Buffalo, and then you also got players to try to bring along such as Mitch. We'll manage it as best we can. We won't have another chance to do it until Tuesday in his case and then we'll sort of take it a day at a time from there."

Toronto will host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday, which is the earliest Marner could return. The Leafs have another practice day scheduled for next Friday. 

Marner sustained the injury after falling awkwardly on his leg in Boston. He wasn't interested in getting into details about what happened in his first media session since then.

"I've been watching every game," the 26-year-old said. "You guys have been talking about it every single game. So, I think you guys can say whatever you want. It's behind me now. Stuff happened and you kind of just go on from it."

The team initially described the injury as "lower body" and never elaborated. TSN Hockey Insider Darren Dreger reported that it was a high ankle sprain and Keefe didn't dispute that during a recent media session. 

"I'll let you guys speculate on what you think it is," Marner said. "It's behind me now. I'm excited to be back out here with the guys and competing with them again."

The Leafs have gone 5-3-1 since Marner got hurt. 

Keefe believes the time off from game action may actually prove beneficial for Marner, who will now be fresher for the stretch drive and playoffs. 

"That's how you got to look at it," said Marner, who leads the Leafs forward group in average ice time. "You can look at it that way and that's how I've been trying to look at it. We're all competitive in here and we don't want to miss games, especially this late in the season."

ContentId(1.2096958): Marner returns to Leafs practice, but will miss at least two more games


Morgan Rielly missed practice and the defenceman will sit out a third straight game on Saturday due to an upper-body injury. 

"He's progressing well," assured Keefe. "He won't be available tomorrow, but it looks like he's turned the corner here and should be on the ice in the next day or so."

The news isn't as good for defenceman Timothy Liljegren, who missed Thursday's game with his own upper-body injury. 

"Timeline not exactly set, but not a day-to-day situation," Keefe said. "More week-to-week, I would say, but we're not expecting it, at this point, to outlast the regular season."

Joel Edmundson is also sidelined after getting hurt during Sunday's game against the Carolina Hurricanes. Keefe said Edmundson's timeline is similar to Liljegren's. 

ContentId(1.2096977): Leafs Ice Chips: Rielly turns a corner; Samsonov starts in Buffalo


Defenceman T.J. Brodie spoke to the media for the first time since being made a healthy scratch in two games last week. 

"No one wants to be out of the lineup," the 33-year-old defenceman said. "But, you know, it is what it is. You try to just move on and be better the next time you get in."

This is the first time Brodie, who is in the final season of a four-year contract, has been benched for performance-related issues during his time in Toronto. 

"I guess you try to get the rest," Brodie said of his mindset when out of the lineup. "It's a long season so take advantage of it that way. And then just, you know, spend some time with the family, I guess, when you're home and sort of get away from the game that way." 

After playing a season-low 17 minutes and six seconds in his return to the lineup on Sunday in Raleigh, Brodie seems to have stabilized things in the last two games. He's been a plus player in each outing and picked up three assists. 

"Last night I thought was the best of the games he's played since coming back," Keefe said. "I don't think we've seen a massive change in him or anything like that but I just think he's gone out and done his job and that's what really what you need."

Brodie picked up one assist and matched a season high with three shots during Thursday's win over the Washington Capitals

"Felt pretty good," he said. "Just trying to keep my feet moving and be involved ... I felt good last night. Some nights the chances to get shots through are there and some nights they aren't, but last night I got a couple chances." 

Brodie is mired in the longest active goal drought in the NHL. He hasn't scored in 102 games dating back to Dec. 31, 2022. 

"Obviously you want to contribute that way, but I know that's not my job here," Brodie said. "If it happens it happens and it's a positive, but there's other things I can do to help the team."

Brodie, who has 21 assists in 69 games, hasn't been as reliable as usual this season. 

"I think just confidence," he said of the biggest challenge. "Just, when things don't go the way you want them to, be able to put it behind you and move on and not have it snowball and effect you even more the next time."

Despite his struggles, Brodie still ranks second in average ice time on the Leafs behind only Rielly. 

ContentId(1.2096959): Brodie breaks silence on being healthy scratch, 102 game goal drought


Defenceman Simon Benoit signed a three-year extension with the Leafs on Friday. The average annual value of the contract is $1.35 million.

"Pretty happy," the 25-year-old from Laval, Que. said with a smile. "I work hard. Last couple years I've been on one ways so to set myself up for a three-year contract here, it's really special."

The Anaheim Ducks did not extend Benoit a qualifying offer in the summer, which allowed him to hit the open market. He signed a one-year deal with the Leafs worth $775,000. 

Slowed by back spasms, Benoit failed to crack the Leafs roster after training camp. He cleared waivers before starting the season with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League.  

"I just proved I'm a day-to-day NHL player," he said. "I have an impactful game with the team. I'm just happy. I'm just really grateful ... It gives yourself a bit of security."

"He had a tough camp," Keefe recalled. "He got injured. It took him a while to get acclimated. The feeling was that he had some elements that we lacked — size, length, physicality. It was good to have that option available to us."

After injuries hit the team's defence early in the year, Benoit was called up and made his debut with the team on Nov. 6. He grabbed hold of a spot and never let go. 

"I like the city," he said. "I like the guys. I like the group. The staff is unreal. Everybody treats us really well here ... A couple games into the season I was like, 'Yeah, I need to stay here, so I better be playing well.'"

Benoit brings a blue-collar approach on the ice. He has produced just five points in 54 games, but leads the team in hits. 

"He is a player who you want to show belief in because he is going to put in the work," said Keefe. "We believe he is going to continue to get better. He has fit in really well around here. He brings lots of energy, enthusiasm, and personality to the group, too, which is an important thing. It gives our group a different element. You like having him in there for reasons."

Benoit appreciated the chance to get the contract situation settled sooner than later. 

"Obviously when you play through it, you want to get it done," he said. "We got it done before playoffs so that's even a good thing."

Benoit doesn't plan on doing anything special to celebrate. 

"I'll just keep living the way I am," he said. "I won't change a thing. Maybe I'll bring my girlfriend shopping a little bit, but other than that nothing changes for me."  

ContentId(1.2096961): Benoit grateful for Leafs extension: 'I proved I’m a day-to-day NHL player'


When Liljegren was a late scratch on Thursday night, Mark Giordano entered the lineup and played for the first time since sustaining a concussion on Feb. 29. 

Giordano spent time away from the team last month following the sudden passing of his father. The 40-year-old scored in the first period against the Capitals and pointed to the sky. 

"Just something I promised I would do after my dad passed away, if I scored," he said. "The way it was going (smile) it looked like it might not happen, but it was nice to get that one."

Giordano's voice cracked with emotion. 

"Nothing too big, but pretty special for me," he said.

It was only Giordano's second goal of the season and first since Oct. 28. 

Marner called it a breathtaking moment. 

"He's had a tough year," Marner said. "He means a lot to this locker room. He means a lot to this city. It's his first goal back since the passing of his father. You saw him point up, it's meant for his dad. It's such a cool moment. First game back, started us off with that. He's a warrior out there and I think everyone sees that."

Giordano has only suited up in three games since his dad passed away on Feb. 16. 

"It's been tough," he said. "There's been moments where it's been real tough with the family side of things. But, you know what, I've been having a lot of fun being at the rink, around the guys, and just take it like that and wait for your chance." 

The Toronto native is in his 18th NHL season. 

"You always feel better being around the guys," Giordano said. "The support from the organization, I mean, you can't say enough about our organization and our team. When something like that happens, you see how many people really, truly care about you."

Giordano received the player-of-the game belt from Edmundson after the win. 

Giordano is the oldest player in the NHL and in the final year of his contract. The addition of Edmundson and Ilya Lyubushkin before the trade deadline pushed him down the depth chart. 

Giordano is determined to live in the present. 

"You see how quick hockey changes from week to week," Giordano said. "One week you're out of the lineup and you're hurt and next week you're right back in playing in an important game, so you got to stay ready and stay focused and that's all everyone's focus really should be at this time of year." 

ContentId(1.2096960): 'Something I promised': Giordano points to sky after first goal since dad's passing


During Thursday's win over Washington, Connor Dewar scored his first goal since being acquired by the Leafs at the deadline. 

"It was nice," the 24-year-old forward said. "It was kind of a sigh of a relief. It's been a little bit, so it was nice."

The goal was Dewar's 11th of the season and first since March 7. 

"Kind of a nice bounce," he said. "[David Kampf] threw it towards the net and ended up on my stick with an open net."

There was much more to it for Keefe. 

"Quite honestly, it is one of my favourite goals of the season," Keefe said with a grin. "That is a coach's goal in a lot of ways. It is kind of how you draw these things up."

The sequence started with gritty winger Ryan Reaves

"He comes in on the entry, he doesn't force it up," Keefe said. "He takes care of it and puts it to the bottom [of the zone]. Kampf retrieves it. Side change. Two people at the net. Throw it in there, win a battle, and Dewy finishes it."

The goal stunted Washington's momentum after the Capitals had scored to pull within 2-1. 

Reaves gave Dewar a playful push afterwards. 

"He just roughed me up a bit," Dewar noted with a smile. "He's a great teammate and great person so he's made it real easy."

The pair also played together in Minnesota last season. 

Dewar also logged nearly two minutes shorthanded and helped the Leafs kill off two Capitals power plays. 

"It's always been my bread and butter," Dewar said. "It takes a detailed player with good feet and a good stick and a good head so I think that suits me."

"He's about as steady as they come," observed goalie Joseph Woll. "He's a guy I trust anywhere on the ice."

This is the first time Dewar, who hails from tiny The Pas, Man., has switched teams mid-season. 

"It's been weird," he admitted. "I've never gone through a trade before so I didn't know what to expect really, but I'm starting to settle in and feel comfortable here."

The biggest adjustment? 

"Traffic," he said to laughs. "Wake up early. Hit the road."  

ContentId(1.2096966): After scoring first as a Leaf, Dewar admits he's still adjusting to Toronto traffic


Tyler Bertuzzi delivered two goals on Thursday. The top-line winger is now up to six goals in the last seven games. What's behind the surge? 

"I have no idea," the 29-year-old said. "I've been doing kind of the same thing and just getting lucky."

Bertuzzi banked in his first goal of the night off Capitals goalie Charlie Lindgren from behind the net. 

"I kind of saw he was a little bit off the crease," he said with a shrug. "I kind of just attempted it and, yeah, it worked out."

"Puck luck is a big part of it," Keefe said. "He gets one from below the goal line. He couldn't get one from above the goal line with empty nets before. Now, they are going in for him."

Bertuzzi's other goal came after Max Domi forced a Lindgren turnover and gave his linemate an open net to shoot at. 

"He has worked," said Keefe. "He has continued to put himself in good spots."

Bertuzzi scored just six goals in the first 50 games of the season. He's potted 12 in 20 games since then. 

"Credit to him for continuing to stick with it, doing good things and not getting discouraged," said Keefe. "He's taken advantage of the extra opportunities he has gotten. It is very important for our team. I have maintained all the way through that Bert is going to be a very important player for us. He is going to score big goals at key times. He is building momentum toward that."

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The Leafs didn't run lines during practice. 

Keefe confirmed that Ilya Samsonov will start on Saturday in Buffalo. 

Power play units at Friday's practice: 

Timmins, Matthews, Tavares, Nylander, Bertuzzi 

McCabe, Domi, Robertson, Matthews/Bertuzzi, Knies