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Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews briefly skates ahead of must-win Game 5

Auston Matthews made a brief appearance on the TD Garden ice Tuesday.

The sniper’s status as he continues to battle an illness with his Maple Leafs facing elimination, however, remains in serious doubt.

The three-time Maurice (Rocket) Richard Trophy winner as the NHL’s top goal-scorer took a couple twirls alongside teammates ahead of a must-win Game 5 in a cameo appearance at Toronto’s optional morning skate with the club trailing its first-round playoff series against the Boston Bruins 3-1.

“He’s working through things to try and make himself available to play,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said. “No determination at this time.”

The 26-year-old sniper had a monster Game 2 with a goal and two assists to help the Leafs even the series 1-1, but didn’t look like himself two nights later in a 4-2 loss.

Matthews, who led the NHL with the league’s first 69-goal regular season in almost three decades, then missed practice Friday for what the team initially called “maintenance.”

He was on the ice Saturday morning ahead of Game 4 and tried to give it a go before being pulled from the action by doctors in the second intermission as Toronto was pushed to the brink of elimination with a disappointing 3-1 loss.

“He’s a warrior,” Leafs enforcer Ryan Reaves said of Matthews. “He’s going to battle through whatever, whenever he has to.”

Keefe said Matthews is doing all he can to be out there with the group as it faces the daunting task of winning three straight against an opponent that has taken 10 of the teams’ last 11 meetings dating back to the 2022-23 season.

“I just look at the last couple of game (and) the way he’s given us everything that he’s got,” Keefe said. “This time of year, the players are going to do all that they can to get out there, and the medical team is going to do all that they can to make sure the players are available, while also making sure they’re taken care of.”

Keefe added the doctors — and not Matthews — will make the final call on his availability for Game 5.

“Doctors make the call for the players and their best interests,” he said. “They won’t put anybody in harm’s way.”

The Leafs are 1-16 all-time when trailing a series 3-1, but Boston blew the same lead last season in the first round against the Florida Panthers.

This best-of-seven series began with roster questions on both sides.

Leafs star William Nylander’s status was unclear because of an undisclosed injury until he joined the fray in Game 4. The Bruins have been coy about their starting goaltender from the outset, but seem to have settled on Jeremy Swayman, who has won seven consecutive games against Toronto.

Keefe was asked if there’s something other than an illness bothering Matthews, but he declined to provide any more information.

“I’ve already answered too many questions on the situation,” he said. “We’ve been through this situation with (Nylander). Time of the year we’re not going to answer much else.”

Matthews became the first player since Mario Lemieux in 1995-96 to reach 69 goals, falling just one short of becoming the ninth in NHL history to hit 70.

Toronto defenceman Jake McCabe said the Leafs’ star has battled all season for his team.

“Shows up to play every night,” he said. “No matter how he’s feeling.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 30, 2024.

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