May 22nd, 2024

William Nylander practises with Leafs ahead of Game 4 against Bruins: ‘Feeling great’

By Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press on April 26, 2024.

Toronto Maple Leafs winger William Nylander appears on course to suit for the first time this spring after missing the three games of Toronto's opening-round series against the Boston Bruins with an undisclosed injury. Nylander brings the puck forward during NHL hockey action against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto, Wednesday, April 3, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

TORONTO – William Nylander took a pass from John Tavares and wheeled towards the net.

The Maple Leafs winger then deftly fed the puck against the grain on a tee for Mitch Marner to blast a one-timer from a sharp angle.

The power-play sequence was only a practice drill. It was also one of many positive signs for the player – and a team that’s opened the playoffs minus one of its key contributors.

Nylander appears on course to join the action Saturday for Game 4 against the Boston Bruins with Toronto facing a 2-1 deficit in the teams’ first-round series after he missed the first three contests due to an undisclosed injury.

There was nothing definitive on the 27-year-old’s status Friday – such updates are treated like state secrets in the NHL post-season – but all signs pointed to the talented forward returning to the fray.

“Feeling great,” Nylander said following practice. “The games are crazy to watch from home. It’s never been so nervous in my life.”

The Swede wouldn’t discuss what’s kept him out of the lineup, but said it hasn’t been an enjoyable experience. The Leafs lost the best-of-seven opener 5-1 in Boston, rebounded with a 3-2 victory in Game 2, and then fell 4-2 in Toronto on Wednesday.

“I don’t like it,” he said of watching. “First game was crazy. We had so many chances those first two minutes. My heart was just “¦ I don’t know what was going on.”

The Swede’s arrival in the series would be a welcome boost for Toronto’s attack, which has scored six goals in nine periods and is just 1-for-11 on the power play.

“Very important player for us,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “But getting him to full health and making sure he’s ready to step into a series of this calibre and this time of year “¦ that would be the next step.”

Nylander put up 40 goals for the second straight campaign and set a career-high with 98 points in 2023-24.

“A world-class player,” Tavares said. “Continues to grow and be such an impact player for us. One of the league’s great game-breakers. We’ve seen it throughout his time here.”

Nylander, who skated on a line with countrymen Calle Jarnkrok and Pontus Holmberg before Game 3 and again Friday, has missed time due to illness at different points in his career, but hadn’t been sidelined with an injury since November 2016 until this series.

“To miss these first games in the playoffs is really tough,” he said. “This is the time you want to play. Hopefully, I’m back soon.”

Tavares knows what it’s like to look on from afar. Toronto’s captain suffered head and neck injuries early in his team’s first-round series against the Montreal Canadiens in 2021, which the Leafs lost in seven games despite leading 3-1.

“You don’t have any influence on the game,” he said. “The type of brotherhood you create and develop in here, it’s not easy.”

Nylander has stayed patient despite not being involved to date.

“It is what it is,” he said. “There’s nothing to really stress about. Can’t force yourself back in the game. I’ll be ready when I’m ready.”

So what will be the biggest challenge when Nylander gets back in the lineup?

“Nothing,” he shot back. “I’m fine.”

MATTHEWS SITS

Leafs star Auston Matthews (maintenance day) skipped practice.

The 26-year-old had two goals, including the winner, to go along with an assist in Game 2 before being held off the scoresheet Wednesday.

“He’s given us everything that he has,” Keefe said of the 69-goal man. “You want to make sure as a coaching staff and a medical staff we give him every opportunity to be at his best.”

FAMILY TIME

With two days off between Games 3 and 4, Leafs defenceman Ilya Lybushkin flew to California to be with his wife following the birth of their daughter.

Keefe expects the hard-nosed Russian to be available Saturday.

BRODIE IN?

Veteran blueliner T.J. Brodie sat out the first three games of the series as a healthy scratch, but looks likely to replace Timothy Liljegren in the lineup.

REMEMBERING A LEGEND

Famed play-by-play man Bob Cole died this week at age 90. Tavares said like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories watching hockey included the legendary broadcaster’s voice.

“It was the coolest thing the first time I ever heard Bob Cole call my name,” said Tavares, the No. 1 pick at the 2009 draft. “Always remember growing up dreaming about playing in the NHL, and as a young kid watching ‘Hockey Night in Canada.’

“That passion and love for the game.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2024.

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