For over seven minutes, time stood still inside Scotiabank Arena.
The Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens were playing an intense Game 1 of their first-round playoff series when the game had to be stopped to tend to a motionless John Tavares.
The Leafs captain was on the receiving end of a hit from Canadiens defenseman Ben Chariot. As Tavares fell, he was struck by the knee of Montreal defenseman Corey Perry.
It was horrifying to watch on television. It was just as bad to witness in person.
“I’ve experienced a lot of different things, a whole lot of tough injuries and stuff like that in my time as a player and coach, but in an empty building like that, that was probably the most uncomfortable situation that I’ve been part of on the ice,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following his team’s 2-1 loss. “Our players were rattled and concerned, I was obviously very concerned as well.”
There were a couple of instances where Tavares tried to get up on his own as medical staff and teammates pleaded with him to stay down.
He was transported to a nearby hospital and the good news is he is conscious and is communicating well. The initial tests he had have come back clear, according to the coach. Tavares will stay in the hospital overnight to undergo further tests.
“He got hit and I was coming out of the zone,” Perry said of the contact with Tavares. “He fell, I tried to jump over him and unfortunately I caught my knee on his head.
‘I don’t know what else to do there. I tried to jump and it was an unfortunate incident. I know Johnny pretty well and just hope he’s ok.”
When play resumed, Toronto’s Nick Foligno started things by challenging Perry to a fight on the first moment play resumed.
“I don’t think Perry maliciously did anything, I think it’s just a matter of answering (for the hit) and being done with it,” Foligno said. “It allows us to go play hockey.”
Although the initial news about Tavares is positive, the team will have to prepare to play without him in the short term. He played all 56 regular-season games and scored 19 goals and added 31 assists.
Among forwards on the team, he led Toronto with 0.8 deflections per game and 0.34 rebound chances, per Sportlogiq. He also led the team with 6.6 offensize-zone faceoffs per game. Although he didn’t always have the points to show for it, he was a driver of much of Toronto’s secondary offense this season.
The Leafs, devasted by the loss of their captain, were clearly affected in the immediate aftermath of the incident.
The Canadiens opened the scoring minutes later when Josh Anderson found an opening and split past the Toronto defensive pair of Rasmus Sandin and Nick Bogosian before beating Jack Campbell’s glove side at 12:08.
The Leafs found their game in the second period. William Nylander scored Toronto’s only goal whe he got away from Chiarot in the attack zone and parked himself of the net. He then picked up a rebound from Morgan Rielly’s shot to beat Montreal goaltender Carey Price at 4:28.
Nylander, who had to play with many different linemates following the injury to Tavares, had a decent game in addition to the goal. He had four shots on goal and finished his checks, including one on defenseman Brett Kulak, who was a pest against the Leafs do much of the night.
Toronto’s power play, which had been atrocious for the last three months of the regular season, played a factor in the team’s loss. With Monteal’s Tomas Tatar in the box for high-sticking, Paul Byron found an opening and skated past a tired Rasmus Sandin and somehow flipped the puck past Campbell as he fell down for the shorthanded game-winning goal at 12:44 of the third period.
Without Tavares, Alex Kerfoot returned on the second power-ply unit. When Toronto went with their loaded up power-play toward the end of the game, Zach Hyman filled Tavares’ role.
But Montreal used a combination of their hitting (they outhit Toronto 55-27) and backcheck to get the upper-hand in the opening game of the much-anticipated series. Although Toronto dominated the possession battle throughout, Montreal capitalized on their chances where Toronto missed.
That’s playoff hockey, something Toronto knows all too well. But it’s a long series with Game 2 set for Saturday night.
Carey Price returns to form
There were questions about the goaltender’s health after returning from a concussion, but he looked very much like the playoffs Price we saw last year in the bubble and previous seasons before it.
Price made 35 saves to collect the win. His most impressive save came midway through the third period when he robbed Mitch Marner on a 2-on-1 set up by Nylander.
Marner had a game-high eight shots on goal but was kept off the score sheet.
Puck over glass
The Leafs took three penalties for clearing the puck over the glass. It seemed to disrupt the rhythm of the game. It did give Jack Campbell extra work in goal. He was solid in his NHL playoff debut and made 28 saves on 30 shots.