John Tavares visited the Toronto Maple Leafs at their practice complex Wednesday, one day ahead of their chance to eliminate the Montreal Canadiens from the Stanley Cup First Round in Game 5 on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Maple Leafs lead the best-of-7 series, winning three in a row after the center sustained a concussion and knee injury in Game 1 on May 20. Coach Sheldon Keefe said Tavares is doing “very well,” and though no further details were provided about his recovery, the fact he was able to leave home is encouraging.
“John’s in the facility here today kind of reacclimating himself and getting back going,” Keefe said. “So there are a lot of really positive things there, both in his recovery and having him around our group.”
The knee injury was projected to sideline Toronto’s captain for a minimum of two weeks and no timetable was given for a return from the concussion.
“We get text messages from him for every game reminding us what we need to do out there and what our mindset needs to be like,” forward William Nylander said. “He’s been a huge part in it. He’s been on FaceTime after the wins in the locker room, so he’s there every moment.”
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 the series opener. He was taken from the ice on a stretcher and examined by the St. Michael’s Hospital neurosurgical team and the Maple Leafs medical director.
After staying overnight, Tavares was home the next day under the supervision of Maple Leafs doctors. General manager Kyle Dubas said the knee injury is similar to the sprained MCL sustained by Toronto forward Zach Hyman on April 18. Hyman returned from his injury to play Game 1.
Tavares has remained in touch with teammates every day during his absence, including via text from the hospital on the night of the injuries.
“That’s been the real positive of this,” Keefe said. “When I talk about it, you know, right after Game 1, John helped put everyone at ease, first of all, by just the fact he was able to communicate. And secondly, to do so knowing it was a very concerning situation and that the players care for him greatly. For him to communicate and reach out and stay on that and reassure the guys he’s doing well because he has been doing well, it’s a very good thing for our team.
“He’s the captain of our group, so for him to still be showing those leadership qualities that he has this time of year is really important. And then having him part of our postgame gatherings after a win is a nice touch as well.”