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William Nylander returns to Maple Leafs lineup for Game 4 against Bruins

William Nylander has joined the Stanley Cup chase.

The Maple Leafs winger was in the lineup for Game 4 of Toronto’s first-round playoff series with the Boston Bruins on Saturday night after sitting out the first three contests with an undisclosed injury.

Nylander, whose team trailed Boston 2-1 in the best-of-seven Original Six matchup entering play, scored 40 goals for the second consecutive regular season to go along with a career-high 98 points in 2023-24.

The 27-year-old also had 10 points in 11 playoff games last spring as Toronto won a series for the first time since 2004.

Rookie winger Nick Robertson stayed in the lineup on the fourth line alongside David Kampf and Ryan Reaves. Connor Dewar was the odd man out. Leafs defenceman T.J. Brodie, meanwhile, took the spot of Timothy Liljegren on the blue line after he was a healthy scratch to open the series.

Game 5 goes Tuesday in Boston. Game 6, if necessary, would be Thursday back in Toronto.

“It’d be huge,” Leafs defenceman Jake McCabe said Saturday morning of Nylander’s potential addition. “Any time you get one of the top players in the league back in your lineup, it’s a pretty positive thing. He does a lot for us.

“He can change a game at the snap of a finger … Willy’s important to our group.”

Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said deciding which player would come out of the lineup wasn’t a slam dunk.

“Not an easy decision whatsoever,” Keefe said. “Dewar has done a tremendous job in his own place in what we’ve asked of him.”

Nylander’s absence was the first time he’d missed time due to injury since November 2016.

The Swede’s introduction was a welcome boost for Toronto’s attack, which had scored six goals in nine periods and was just 1-for-11 on the power play entering Saturday.

Also part of a penalty kill that’s surrendered five goals on 10 opportunities to the Bruins, Nylander took warm-ups on a line with countrymen Calle Jarnkrok and Pontus Holmberg after also lining up that way before Game 3 and again at Friday’s practice.

“A key player for their team,” Bruins defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk said. “He’s lethal, he can score, make plays, gives added firepower. He’s someone that you definitely worry about and have to plan for. We’re certainly aware of that and know what he can do.”

He added Boston planned to lean on Nylander as much as possible.

“Even when you’re playing Game 1, when you’re healthy, the speed ramps up, the intensity ramps up,” Shattenkirk said of playoff hockey. “We just have to make it as uncomfortable as possible for him.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 27, 2024.

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