Morgan Rielly's Hit on Greig Has Sparked the Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs have been dominant since the defenseman's response to a controversial empty-net goal.

Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts to an empty-net goal by Ridly Greig of the Ottawa Senators.
Morgan Rielly of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts to an empty-net goal by Ridly Greig of the Ottawa Senators. / Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photo/GettyImages
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Love it or hate it there was no shortage of opinions on Morgan Rielly's hit against Ridly Greig during the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-3 loss against the Ottawa Senators on February 10th.

In a nationally televised game, the the Toronto Maple Leafs were defeated by their basement-dwelling provincial rivals for the third time this season. Rielly reacted to Greig's showboating slapshot into an empty Leafs net that clinched the victory.

The NHL Department of Player Safety eventually determined that Rielly would sit five games for his actions.

The Leafs, with very limited depth on the back end, faced the adversity of being without their best defenseman for multiple games. A potential drop in the standings would not have been shocking. Instead, the opposite has happened.

Rielly's Hit on Greig Has Sparked the Toronto Maple Leafs

After that game two weeks ago, the Leafs were in a precarious position. Their cushion for third place in the Atlantic Division had disappeared. The Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red Wings were jostling with them for playoff positioning along with other teams from the Metropolitan Division.

Rather than wilt, the Leafs responded. They won all five games without Rielly. Then, they throttled the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights in his first game back. The six-game win streak is the Leafs longest of the season.

Over a long season, most teams have a few hot stretches, but the Leafs numbers during this streak are staggering. They have outscored their opponents 34-14.

Yes, there was a 9-2 blowout over the lowly Anaheim Ducks and a 6-3 victory over the middling Arizona Coyotes. Still, the streak also included two victories over the still-in-playoff-contention St. Louis Blues and an overtime victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, currently in third place in the Metropolitan.

Most impressive was the victory over the Golden Knights. It occurred on the second night of back-to-back road games. If ever there was an excuse for a subpar performance, this was it. Instead, the Leafs had one of their most impressive periods of hockey of the season.

They put up twenty-plus shots and scored four goals. Also, none of the goals came off the sticks of Matthews, William Nylander, or Mitch Marner.

Improved team defensive play has also been evident during the recent streak. The Leafs have reduced the number of shots on the net and high-danger opportunities from their opponents.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Most Gentlemanly Player Delivers Necessary Jolt

The Leafs have been criticized for years over their lack of toughness and grit. Wayne Simmonds and Luke Schenn were players added to the roster to help address the issue.

Earlier this season, the Leafs were chastised by their coach when failing to respond to a Brad Marchand hit on Timothy Liljegren.

Sheldon Keefe called Rielly's reaction to Ridly "appropriate". You can bet that privately he was over the moon with Rielly's response. Matthews and numerous other teammates unsurprisingly commended Rielly.

Keefe specifically mentioned how Reilly was defending the pride of the group and the pride of the logo. This is a sentiment that has been long overdue concerning the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Ironically, the longest-serving and most gentlemanly player delivered the shot that galvanized the team. Now, the Leafs winning their division is realistically within reach. They have also separated themselves from the pack of wild-card contenders.

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They may eventually look back and thank their All-Star defenseman for turning their season around.