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Maple Leafs' Rielly expected back Wednesday

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Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly is on the verge of returning to the lineup Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe stopped short of saying Rielly would suit up against their Atlantic Division rivals but revealed Tuesday that the blue-liner will be an option.

"Morgan will be available for us," Keefe said.

Rielly was cautiously optimistic about his status.

"I feel good," he said. "I think it's just kind of day by day right now. So we'll see tomorrow, but I feel good."

The blue-liner has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury.

Rielly leads all Maple Leafs skaters with 23:49 of ice time per game. He averages more than two minutes of playing time over second-ranked TJ Brodie (21:48) and is a fixture on Toronto's top pairing.

The 30-year-old's defensive deficiencies are well-documented, but he's having another strong offensive season with seven goals and 44 assists in 65 games. The NHL suspended Rielly in February for five contests for cross-checking Ridly Greig in the head after the Ottawa Senators forward scored an empty-netter with a slap shot from close range.

Mitch Marner, another key Maple Leafs player sidelined with an injury, likely won't return as soon as Rielly. Marner has missed the last 11 games with an ankle ailment.

"I haven't had a chance to discuss with (Marner) here yet since he's come off the ice, but I think with him, we're just going to feel it out and talk to him and likely make it more of a target for the weekend," Keefe said.

The Maple Leafs have Thursday and Friday off from game action before facing the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday night. Toronto has eight games remaining on its regular-season schedule and sits third in the Atlantic at 43-22-9.

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