Rielly: Return to play would give Leafs chance to 'prove people wrong'

Mark Blinch / National Hockey League / Getty

Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly says his club is hungry to silence the critics with the league inching closer to a return.

"We're very motivated, we have a goal in mind," Rielly said following the NHL's announcement Thursday that permitted teams to begin training camp July 10, according to TSN's Kristen Shilton.

"We have an opportunity here in the next month and after training camp gets going. We want to be as prepared as possible because there's a chance to come back and prove people wrong."

The Leafs entered the 2019-20 campaign with Stanley Cup aspirations, but a 9-10-4 start to the season resulted in the firing of head coach Mike Babcock in November and put the club's status as a title contender in question.

Toronto replaced him with rookie bench boss Sheldon Keefe, who coached the team to a 25-15-5 record. Despite the overall improvement, the Leafs still struggled to find consistency.

League play was suspended March 12, and Rielly called the hiatus a chance for the team to "take a look in the mirror."

"Going into this break, we didn't feel all that good about where we were at and I think we've all had some time to think about that and we have a chance to change the narrative a little bit and we have to take that opportunity," he said, per Shilton.

The Leafs are slated to play the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-five qualifying series as part of the league's 24-team playoff format. With clubs working hard to prepare for a return, Rielly understands the tall task at hand.

"They're a good team, they play hard, have their certain style and they're well-coached," he said. "That play-in round will be extremely competitive, with a lot of teams that understand what's at stake and don't want to be gone after a couple of games."

Toronto will likely welcome forward Ilya Mikheyev - who's been out with a wrist injury since December - back into the lineup, along with defenseman Jake Muzzin.

Several Leafs players, including captain John Tavares, Mikehyev, and Muzzin returned to the ice this week as part of Phase 2 of the NHL's return plan.

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Rielly: Return to play would give Leafs chance to 'prove people wrong'
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