The Toronto Maple Leafs were a relieved bunch at practice on Friday when they learned that their captain was at home resting following a scary incident against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday.
“I actually talked to him when I got home,” Jason Spezza said. “He said that he picked up my voice (on the ice) and recognized it.”
Tavares suffered a concussion in the first period of Game 1 when he was hit by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot before taking a knee to the face by Corey Perry on his way down to the ice.
The Leafs announced that Tavares is out indefinitely and resting at home after staying at St. Mike’s Hospital in Downtown Toronto overnight for observation.
“We’re going to be thinking about him even day,” Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “A tough feeling not having John around but we have to go out tomorrow and change the narrative.”
The Leafs dropped the opening game of their best-of-seven series with the Canadiens 2-1 on Thursday. Tavares’ absence is a significant blow to a team that doesn’t have many options to play up the middle in a top-six role.
At practice, Nick Foligno took over the second-line center duties.
“Last night on the bench he was telling me he was more than comfortable playing center and to fill under John (Tavares) if I needed him,” Keefe said of Foligno, “Even when he played left wing, he’s spending a lot of time playing low in the defensive zone because he’s usually high in the offensive zone, usually the first guy back and he’s very comfortable playing down low in our own end, so it was a natural fit.”
Foligno skated alongside William Nylander and Alex Galchenyuk, who is set to make his Leafs playoff debut after sitting out as a healthy scratch on Thursday.
Pierre Engvall is also slated to make his series debut. He drew in on the third line with Riley Nash slated to sit out for Game 2.
“Both guys bring in degrees of speed and skill,” Keefe said of Galchenyuk and Engvall. “The dynamics of our group change when John’s not in, so I felt we have to make some changes to compensate for that and give us a little bit more of a push offensively.”
The Leafs skated for approximately 15 minutes at practice on Friday. Starting goaltender Jack Campbell took the day off for maintenance. He made 28 saves on 30 shots in his NHL playoff debut.
Mistakes leading to goals against
The Canadiens scored both of their goals in transition on Thursday. Defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who made his playoff debut, and Joe Thornton were on the ice for both tallies against Toronto.
“I think a lot of our players needed to be better,” Keefe said when asked about both individuals. “Watching the game back here today, I thought both guys, whether it was power-play or 5-on-5, did some positive things for us.”
Sandin spent much of practice talking with defensive partner Zach Bogosian. The two played their first full game together. They were on the ice as a pair on Apr. 20, but Bogosian left the game midway through with a shoulder injury.
Montreal’s Josh Andersen opened the scoring on Thursday when cut through both Leafs defensemen.
At the end of practice, Sandin and Leafs assistant coach Dave Hakstol had a lengthy discussion.
Hakstol takes care of the Leafs’ defensive duties.
Montreal’s physical play
The Canadiens led the NHL in hits this season and they certainly played to their identity. According the official statkeepers, Montreal outhit Toronto 55-27 on Thirsday.
“I don’t know who it is that counts the hit but their definitely not a Leafs fan,” Keefe said. “But we definitely as a team need to be more engaged from the drop of the puck.”
Auston Matthews led the Leafs with five hits on Thursday.
“I think we can pick up our physicality as well.”
UPDATE: Tavares took to his personal Twitter account to update his status.
“Thank you to both the medical teams, emergency services and everyone at St. Mike’s Hospital for their exceptional care to get me back on my feet,” Tavares wrote. “I look forward to when I can wear the Maple Leaf on my chest again. Until then, I’ll be cheering on my boys along with Leafs Nation as we compete in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.