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Maple Leafs brace for a stretch without Morgan Rielly, who’s expected to be suspended

The Toronto Maple Leafs are bracing to play their next several games without top defenseman Morgan Rielly, who could be facing a lengthy suspension.

He has an in-person hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety scheduled for Tuesday in New York. An in-person hearing allows the league to suspend Rielly for six or more games.

Rielly cross-checked Ridly Greig up high in retaliation for the Ottawa Senators player firing a slap shot into an empty net with 5.1 seconds left in the teams’ game Saturday night.

“I think it definitely deserved a reaction,” teammate and fellow All-Star Auston Matthews said after practice Monday. “Morgan’s not a malicious player and somebody that’s dirty, by any means. I think him approaching him was something that was just bound to happen. Somebody was going to do it, especially after a play like that. I just don’t think it’s really necessary to go down there and ‘hardest shot competition’ into the net.”

Toronto hosts the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night and plays six games over the next 10 days. If Rielly gets six games, it would match the longest suspension handed out this season.

“I was expecting a fine, a one-game (suspension) max,” Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves said. “The kid got up after, (and he was) completely fine. I think that’s got to be taken into account, too.”

Reaves, 37, called Rielly’s reaction “appropriate.”

“A guy takes a clapper into our net, you going to go play paddy-cake with him? No, there’s got to be a message sent,” Reaves said. “The code’s changed a little bit, the game’s changed a lot and it’s unfortunate that a young kid like that can get away with something like that, and then one of our best players is going to get suspended for it.”

Rielly, 29, has no disciplinary history in his 11-year professional career. Greig, 21, the son of former NHL player Mark Greig, is in his first full NHL season.

Senators coach Jacques Martin said it didn’t matter how Greig scored the empty-netter and was not happy with Rielly’s actions.

“I think it’s not a hockey play,” Martin said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s frustration or something, but it’s not part of the game.”

Ottawa’s Josh Norris said he understood Rielly’s frustration, even though he wasn’t a fan of the play.

“I loved it, but I’m sure obviously if we were on the other side, I don’t know if we would’ve liked it, either,” Norris said. “It’s over with. I guess it was entertaining.”

Veteran forward Claude Giroux said it was a product of an intense game.

“The emotions sometimes will get to you,” Giroux said. “I obviously don’t like to see him getting in the face there, but there’s not much really to say. Sometimes that kind of stuff happens.”

The fallout is the Leafs, who are trying to hold on to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, dealing with life without Rielly.

“We all got to pick up those minutes,” defenseman Mark Giordano said. “Those are big minutes. He plays in every situation. He’s been really underrated this year across the league. I think offensively, obviously we all know what he does, but I think in all areas of the game he’s been really good this year. A big part of our team, obviously.”

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