Maple Leafs’ Matthews eyeing return vs. Chicago following knee sprain

Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews skates off the ice after the team's loss to the Arizona Coyotes in an NHL hockey game in Tempe, Ariz., Thursday, Dec. 29, 2022. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

TORONTO — Auston Matthews is ready to get back into action.

The Maple Leafs star told reporters following Tuesday’s practice he’s aiming to return to the lineup when Toronto hosts the Chicago Blackhawks on Wednesday.

Matthews has been sidelined since suffering a sprained knee in warm-ups Jan. 25.

The 25-year-old centre, who won last season’s Hart Trophy as NHL MVP and put up the league’s first 60-goal season in a decade, initially played through the injury, but got it checked out by Toronto’s medical staff post-game.

The Leafs anticipated a three-week recovery period, with Tuesday marking exactly 21 days.

Toronto entered the night’s action second in the Atlantic Division, two points up on the Tampa Bay Lightning and 11 back of the NHL-topping Boston Bruins.

“See how everything responds (Wednesday) morning and see how I’m feeling,” Matthews said. “For myself, just trying to get into the mindset in anticipation of playing and go from there.”

The sniper, who skated between William Nylander and Michael Bunting at practice, has 25 goals and 53 points in 47 games this season.

Toronto is coming off a disappointing 4-3 loss to last-place Columbus at home Saturday that split a back-to-back with the Blue Jackets.

If he does return Wednesday night, Matthews will have only missed five games — the Leafs went 2-3-0 in his absence — thanks to the all-star break and the team’s bye week.

“Just trying to take in the silver lining of things and utilizing the break to improve and feel better,” he said. “Hopefully this is the last time I’ll be missing.

“It’s not fun watching.”

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