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Morgan Rielly could return to Maple Leafs lineup

Defenseman has missed past five games with right leg injury

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- Defenseman Morgan Rielly could play for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Dallas Stars on Tuesday (8:30 p.m. ET; FS-SW, SNO, NHL.TV).

Rielly practiced Monday for the first time since injuring his right leg in a 4-3 win against the Buffalo Sabres on Jan. 17.

He took part in all the drills, including penalty-killing, alongside his usual defense partner, Nikita Zaitsev.

Rielly has 17 points in 42 games and his average ice time of 22:22 per game is second on the Maple Leafs to Zaitsev (22:36). In five games Rielly has missed, the Maple Leafs went 2-2-1.

After practice Monday, Rielly said he felt good but experienced some limitations.

"Here and there, but it's all stuff that I can manage I think," he said. "It's up to me to take care of it and make sure I'm doing everything I can to make sure that I feel good [Tuesday] and I have an opportunity to come back and help the team."

Rielly skated on his own while the Maple Leafs played at the Detroit Red Wings and Philadelphia Flyers prior to the All-Star break, and was on the ice during the break. Now that he has practiced, the final hurdle is to see how his injury responds to the workload.

"I'll know more [Tuesday]," Rielly said. "I think at this point, it's kind of more about how the body responds. In the morning I think I'll know a bit more."

Video: PHI@TOR: Rielly snipes a PPG into the top shelf

Coach Mike Babcock would not say that Rielly will play Tuesday.

"I don't have to decide until [Tuesday] after the [morning] skate so we'll figure that out," Babcock said. "But obviously if he's back it's a real boost. He's a good hockey player."

Babcock said he is waiting for Rielly and the Maple Leafs medical staff to tell him that Rielly is ready to play.

"I'm not looking for anything," he said. "I'm just looking for him to tell me that he's ready to go."

With Rielly and Zaitsev skating as a pair, the Maple Leafs had Jake Gardiner with his usual partner, Connor Carrick. Martin Marincin skated with Roman Polak, and Matt Hunwick was with Frank Corrado. Hunwick and Polak had been a regular pair the past six weeks.

The Maple Leafs return from the break one point behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference. They play four straight on the road, starting at the Stars and continuing with games at the St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins and New York Islanders. Rielly's return would be a welcome addition to the lineup.

"It's huge," forward James van Riemsdyk said. "You see all the minutes he plays for us and in all of the different situations. If we can get him back, that would be awesome."

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