John Tavares said Wednesday he is continuing to recover from a concussion and knee injury sustained in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Montreal Canadiens on May 20.
The Toronto Maple Leafs captain, speaking for the first time publicly since being injured, said he was grateful for the overwhelming support he has received.
“I’m thankful to be where I’m at today and to make the progress that I have to this point,” Tavares said. “I’ll continue to get back to 100-percent health and get myself ready to play as soon as possible, so very fortunate for that.
“Thank you to everybody across the hockey community, Leafs Nation and so many people that reached out to wish me a speedy recovery. Thank you again.”
Tavares was injured when he fell near the blue line after being checked by Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot and then was hit in the head by the left knee of Montreal forward Corey Perry with 9:31 remaining in the first period of Game 1. After leaving the ice on a stretcher, Tavares was examined by the St. Michael’s Hospital neurosurgical team and the Maple Leafs medical director.
After staying overnight, he was released to go home the next day under the supervision of Maple Leafs doctors. He did not play in the remainder of the best-of-7 first round, won by the Canadiens in seven games after Toronto had built a 3-1 series lead.
Montreal visits the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 of the second round Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Despite missing the final six games against the Canadiens, Tavares said he shares in the blame of the Maple Leafs coming up short in the playoffs again. Toronto has lost in the first round of the postseason five straight seasons and has not won a playoff series since 2004.
“It’s really hard to put into context the disappointment, just the devastation of what this loss brings to the group and the challenges we have ahead of us,” he said. “It’s been a tough go. I think we all take significant responsibility.”
The Maple Leafs (35-14-7) finished in first place in the Scotia North Division but center Auston Matthews and forward Mitchell Marner, who combined for 61 goals during the regular season, combined for one in seven playoff games against Montreal.
Tavares was third on Toronto during the regular season behind Marner (67 points; 20 goals, 47 assists) and Matthews (66 points; 41 goals, 25 assists) with 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) in 56 games.
For Tavares, who was born in the Toronto suburb of Etobicoke and grew up in nearby Oakville, Ontario, the frustration of Maple Leafs fans in the community hits home.
“We feel like we’ve let our fan base down,” he said. “I know how much each and every person cares and how bad we want to have success, and we won’t stop trying to get better and finding our way through this.”
Tavares’ recovery has been swift to the point that he took part in the optional morning skate prior to Game 7 on Monday.
“I don’t remember the hits,” he said. “I remember the whole day, my first couple of shifts. And then I remember feeling parts of it. As I was kind of on the ice and getting put on the stretcher and getting onto the ambulance and kind of when I was getting onto the ambulance, is when I really started to kind of get the grasp of it, kind of get a better understanding of what was going on.”
Tavares said Perry reached out to him after the game, and added he has not watched a replay of the incident.
“I’ve never been remotely close to it, and I know how traumatic it was for my family, especially how many times they say it,” he said. “So when I was talking to them at the hospital, and even the next day talking to teammates and people in the organization over the following days, just even the looks on their faces even talking about it, made me realize it was pretty significant.
“Maybe I will watch it. I’m not sure. I haven’t really focused on that. I’ve just tried to get better.”