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Nylander explains Leafs' win streak: 'We're battling for Mo'

Mark Blinch / National Hockey League / Getty

William Nylander believes the Toronto Maple Leafs' four straight victories can be attributed to the club's desire to win without suspended defenseman Morgan Rielly.

"We've answered the bell, and I think Mo kind of lit the fire under the team, so I think, yeah, we're battling for Mo," Nylander said after his team defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Monday.

Toronto has outscored opponents 21-7 during its streak, which matches a season high for consecutive wins set two other times (November and January) this season.

The NHL suspended Rielly for five games after he cross-checked Ottawa Senators forward Ridly Greig, who took a slap shot into an empty net in his team's 5-3 win over the Leafs on Feb. 10.

Matthew Knies echoed Nylander's comments about the experienced defenseman and added that they're playing for Rielly because he stood up for his teammates.

"It's been (a) huge (rallying point)," the rookie said. "He kind of defended the respect of our team, and I think we're playing really hard now. He's a valuable piece to us, and we're excited that he's going to come back here soon. But I think we're playing really good hockey, and I think (his absence has) given us a jump."

Maple Leafs superstar Auston Matthews, who is this season's NHL goals leader, thinks it's more about adjustments than the suspension inspiring the team.

"I'm not sure (it's been) as much of a rallying point as much as just knowing that (we're) missing a very key piece of our team and our defensive core, and knowing you've got to step up collectively and do a job, and guys that are coming in and playing more minutes ... are going to be required to do more," Matthews said.

"So when you have that ... obviously it's great to have these guys come in ... and it just gives them more confidence and gives us confidence as a team."

Following the loss to the Senators in which the Rielly-Greig incident occurred, the Maple Leafs defeated the Blues, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the Anaheim Ducks before prevailing over St. Louis again Monday.

Rielly, the longest-tenured member of the squad, will sit out Wednesday's road meeting with the Arizona Coyotes but can return Thursday against the Vegas Golden Knights. Monday's win was the start of a four-game road swing for Toronto that concludes Saturday against the Colorado Avalanche.

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