TORONTO — John Tavares will be out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round on Thursday, and the Toronto Maple Leafs say they are focused on giving their captain a chance to return during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
“We know John wants us to move on and get ready for next game,” Toronto forward Jason Spezza said Friday. “Our thoughts are with him and we want to win hockey games so we can get him back in the lineup. He’s a big contributor, and the only way (to get him back) is by us winning games. We have to do our job, win hockey games, and that’s what John wants us to do.”
Tavares fell near the blue line after being checked by Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot and then was hit in the face by the left knee of Canadiens forward Corey Perry with 9:31 remaining in the first period of the Maple Leafs’ 2-1 loss. He remained on the ice for about seven minutes before leaving on a stretcher.
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe confirmed Tavares sustained a concussion but did not elaborate on the center’s condition Friday. The Maple Leafs said Tavares was discharged from the hospital after being examined by a neurosurgical team overnight and is resting at home.
Forward Auston Matthews said Tavares texted his teammates from the hospital Thursday. Defenseman Morgan Rielly said he spoke with Tavares on Friday morning.
“He wants nothing more than for us to win,” Rielly said. “We’re playing for him … John’s a huge part of our group and we’re going to be thinking about him every day until he’s back and feeling good. But the attitude here today is: We have to prepare for Game 2.”
The Maple Leafs host the Canadiens in Game 2 of the best-of-7 series Saturday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).
“You can’t really replace a player like him,” Matthews said. “He’s our captain, leader and he comes to the rink every day where he does so much behind the scenes that I don’t think he gets a lot of credit for. We’re going to have to have guys that step in and fill that void and make an impact, but you can’t really replace a guy like that.”
Nick Foligno was the center on the second line during a 15-minute practice Friday, skating between right wing William Nylander and left wing Alex Galchenyuk, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1.
Nylander scored In Game 1; Galchenyuk scored 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 26 games with the Maple Leafs during the regular season.
“Those guys can make plays,” Matthews said. “Foligno works, he’s going to be in front of the net, and Galchenyuk and Nylander are skilled and they make plays. Hopefully they can mesh well and quickly. They haven’t had a lot of time together, but they’re all really good players so I’m sure they’ll be fine.”
Keefe said Foligno, who was acquired in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 11, informed him on the bench during Game 1 that he would be comfortable at center.
“Nick has played a lot of center and a lot in Columbus before he came this season,” Keefe said. “We don’t have an abundance of options there, and I just like the look of that and the ability to fit Galchenyuk into that spot on the line. Nick is very comfortable playing down low in our own end, so it’s a natural fit.”
Alexander Kerfoot moved from right wing back to center on the third line between right wing Ilya Mikheyev and left wing Pierre Engvall, who was a healthy scratch in Game 1. Riley Nash, who was at center on the third line in Game 1, skated as an extra at practice.
“Both guys (Galchenyuk and Engvall) bring degrees of speed and skill,” Keefe said, explaining why he is removing Nash from the lineup. “The dynamics of the group change when John is not in, so I just felt we have to make some changes to compensate for that and give us a little more of a push offensively and greater depth in the skill and speed department.”
Rielly said, “We knew that during this playoff, it wasn’t going to always be easy and we weren’t going to win every game. Losses are going to happen, so we will respond, come back tomorrow confident with a belief in our group. The challenge is on us now to bring it tomorrow and really show up.”
Spezza said the Maple Leafs will not be preoccupied with Perry in the series. Foligno and Perry fought as soon as play resumed after Tavares’ injury.
“No, we are going to make it so it is not a distraction,” Spezza said. “It was addressed (in Game 1) and it’s a physical game. I don’t think anybody, Perry included, wants to see John lying on the ice like that, but there is no doubt it’s playoffs and there’s bad blood between teams. But we are going to move forward.”