Tavares incident a scary scene as Maple Leafs edged in playoff opener

John Tavares’ health above all else.

That was all that really mattered on Thursday night, and in the days that will follow.

Game 1 of the first playoff meeting between the Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens in 42 years took a horrific turn midway through the first period at Scotiabank Arena.

As Tavares fell to the ice after being checked by Montreal defenceman Ben Chiarot at the Leafs blue line, the head of the Leafs captain was accidentally struck by the left knee of Canadiens forward Corey Perry.

Tavares slumped to the ice, laying awkwardly until the Leafs’ medical staff rushed to his side. As it was evident that Tavares had lost consciousness, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas rushed from his private box.

Tavares appeared to try to get up at one point as he was being attended to. Eventually, Tavares was taken off the ice on a stretcher and gave a thumbs-up as he was being wheeled off. Perry skated over and gave Tavares a quick tap.

Canadiens’ Ben Ciarot and goaltender Carey Price battle against Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews during Game 1 on Thursday, May 20, 2021. CLAUS ANDERSEN/GETTY IMAGES
Canadiens’ Ben Ciarot and goaltender Carey Price battle against Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews during Game 1 on Thursday, May 20, 2021. CLAUS ANDERSEN/GETTY IMAGES

We don’t remember having witnessed a scarier situation during a Leafs game, at least certainly not recently.

It was awful. We can’t be more blunt than that.

There was no immediate update on Tavares from the Leafs.

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On their Twitter account, the Canadiens sent a message in English and French: “We’d like to express our concern for John Tavares and are sending him our best wishes for a speedy recovery.”

Indeed.

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GAME ON

Despite losing 2-1, commend the Leafs for labouring through what had to be a difficult night … Once Tavares was off the ice, the first song played in the rink before play resumed was The Tragically Hip’s Courage (for Hugh MacLennan) … Nick Foligno lined up beside Perry on the first faceoff following the Tavares incident and the two immediately dropped the gloves. Argue if you want whether the fight was necessary, but if Foligno and the Leafs figured the scrap was needed after running through a raft of emotions with what happened to Tavares, so be it … Not long after the Tavares situation, Josh Anderson burst between the Leafs defence pair of Rasmus Sandin and Zach Bogosian and with an extra step, beat goalie Jack Campbell high on the glove side for a 1-0 Canadiens lead … The first couple of minutes might have had more intensity than anything we saw in the 10 regular-season games between the teams. Foligno and Chiarot got into it, as did Joe Thornton and Anderson. Wayne Simmonds managed to avoid a healthy run from Anderson along the side boards. It’s only going to increase as the series wears on and that’s a good thing … The Leafs killed off a Justin Holl penalty early in the second period and used the momentum to tie the game. Parked beside Canadiens goalie Carey Price, William Nylander tapped the puck into the net off a Morgan Rielly rebound at 4:28 … Auston Matthews broke into a big grin as he was being manhandled by Chiarot a few minutes after the Nylander goal. Chiarot got a roughing penalty and Nylander hit the crossbar on the power play … After struggling in the Leafs’ final two regular-season games, Rielly had a sharper night. Early in third period, Rielly blocked a Canadiens shot in front of an open Leafs net … With Tavares out, Alex Kerfoot took shifts between Foligno and Nylander … Neither Campbell nor Price gave up much. Each goaltender was steady throughout. Campbell managed to forget an embarrassing moment in the opening minute when he fell to the ice as he played the puck … Bogosian played for the first time since April 20, when he suffered a shoulder injury against Vancouver … Matthews hit the post in the second period … The Leafs took three minors for delay of game for shooting the puck over the glass — Holl, Mitch Marner and Nylander — and killed off each one … Price absolutely robbed Marner on a one-timer midway through third. Price stretched across the crease to deny Marner following a feed from Nylander … With Tavares presumably out for Game 2 (and beyond), next up for the Leafs will be one of Alex Galchenyuk, Pierre Engvall or Adam Brooks … The Leafs allowed seven shorthanded goals during the regular season, tied for second-most in the NHL, and so it went that Paul Byron scored shorthanded at 12:34 of the third for the winning goal. Byron raced past Sandin and was able to elude a Campbell poke check and put the puck high into the net.

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LOOSE LEAFS

The game marked the deepest the Leafs have played in the month of May since 2002, when Toronto was eliminated on May 28 in the Eastern Conference final by the Carolina Hurricanes … During his morning availability, Tavares spoke about being the Leafs’ nominee for the King Clancy Memorial Trophy, given to the NHL player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community: “It’s a great honour. It means a lot to me, especially because we got a lot of guys that could have easily been nominated. So for the organization to recognize me, I’m very humbled.” Tavares started his foundation in 2020 “to help kids everywhere understand the importance of proper nutrition and embrace healthy lifestyle options” and the foundation recently partnered with Special Olympics Canada. The lone Leaf to win the King Clancy award was Curtis Joseph in 2000.

  1. The Toronto Maple Leafs have the whole gang together to start the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens.

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  2. Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Zach Bogosian battles against Brett Ritchie of the Calgary Flames during NHL hockey in Calgary on Monday April 5, 2021.

    Bogosian back as Maple Leafs prep for physical series

tkoshan@postmedia.com

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