Toronto Maple Leafs left wing Andreas Johnsson (18) celebrates a goal by teammate Auston Matthews (not shown) past Boston Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask (40) during third period NHL playoff hockey action in Toronto on Sunday, April 21, 2019. The Maple Leafs are the last Canadian team left in the NHL playoffs for the first time since 2002. But are the Leafs — a divisive team among hockey fans — garnering support from across Canada? (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Leafs centre John Tavares ahead of Game 7: ‘We don’t want this thing to end’

Toronto will take on the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal Tuesday

When the Maple Leafs signed John Tavares last summer, they had moments like these in mind.

Toronto will take on the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal tonight, and one of the team’s star centres knows how he performs will likely go a long way in determining if the franchise moves beyond the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

READ MORE: 13-year-old B.C. hockey player quits team over bullying

“To get to where we ultimately want to get to and achieve the ultimate goal and play for a Stanley Cup, you’re going to have opportunities like this,” Tavares said after the Leafs’ morning skate at TD Garden. ”These are the things you’ve got to go through — games you’ve got to find ways to win.

“It’s playoff hockey. This is what it’s all about. You just go out there and leave it all on the line.”

The Leafs missed a chance to advance to the conference semifinals when they fell 4-2 at home in Game 6 on Sunday.

Toronto also could have gone up 3-1 at Scotiabank Arena in Game 4, but lost 5-4 midway through a back-and-forth series where neither teams has managed consecutive victories and the visitors hold a 4-2 record.

The Leafs lost to the Bruins in seven games at this stage of the playoffs last spring after falling to Boston in a crushing Game 7 loss in 2013, although defenceman Jake Gardiner and suspended centre Nazem Kadri are the only players that remain on the roster from that miserable night.

“It’s two really good teams that are playing,” Toronto head coach Mike Babcock said. ”As you look at the National Hockey League you see lots, you see how tight it is. The biggest thing for me is we’re going in the right direction. We’re building a program that I think is giving us a real opportunity. We’ve been here before.

“We feel like we’re set up better to do it. You’ve got to keep pushing till you get through these opportunities and you keep advancing. That’s a challenge for us.”

Asked how it felt to wake up the morning of a Game 7, Leafs centre Auston Matthews, who has five goals in his last four games, kept his cards close to the vest.

“Like any other game day, I guess,” the 21-year old said. “It’s obviously a big game for us, but I don’t think the mentality or anything changes.

“You want to go in and play your best game. It’s win or go home.”

For the Leafs to keep playing, they’ll have to solve a Bruins’ power play that’s an eye-popping 7-for-16 in the series. Toronto has struggled in the faceoff circle while killing penalties, and could deploy Tavares on draws in an effort to gain more possession.

Tavares is also looking to contribute on the offensive side. Despite playing well against the Bruins’ top line at 5-on-5, he has just one empty-net goal, while linemate Mitch Marner has a solitary point at even strength.

Babcock said his message to the team before puck drop is simple — embrace the moment.

“If you’re Mitch Marner when you’re seven or eight and you’re playing road hockey, which guy were you? You were whoever scored the overtime winner the night before,” said the coach. ”Be that guy again. But enjoy what you’re doing. The feeling of anxiety, and the feeling of a little tightness, that’s what you’re supposed to feel.

“It helps you react better. It helps you be quicker. It means you’re alive. Don’t we all want to be alive?”

That’s what the Leafs hope to be when they wake up tomorrow morning.

“We want to keep playing,” Tavares said. ”We don’t want this thing to end.”

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Just Posted

REFLECTIONS: Ponoka was booming after the war years

By Mike Rainone for the News At the end of the long… Continue reading

PHOTOS: Ponoka Festival of Trees opening night gala and auction

Generous donors and bidders will help reach $100,000 goal

Fundraiser a test of endurance and fitness

Ponoka gym setting up to participate in worldwide fitness event

Alberta Justice Minister advocates UCP rural crime plan

Expanded property rights, more power to peace officers, demonetizing scrap mental part of UCP plan

Listening to Christmas music too early could affect your mental health

Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist, says preemptive Christmas music can trigger anxiety

Rebels ride 3-goal first period to 4-3 win over Brandon

Goaltender Byron Fancy with key saves in third period to save game

Supreme Court of Canada dismisses murder appeals in 2013 Calgary swarming death

Assmar Shlah and Franz Cabrera were convicted in 2016 of second-degree murder

One year on, most oil-and-gas bailout money has moved, federal government says

Sweden’s central bank says it has sold its Alberta-government issued bonds

Ski resorts selling mountain water is a risky move, critics say

Alberta allowed ski resort in Kananaskis Country to sell about 50 million litres to third party

Sportsnet looks at new options for Coach’s Corner time slot, post-Don Cherry

Spokesperson says Hall of Fame feature on tap this weekend after co-host’s firing

CN Rail confirms job cuts as weakening economy cuts into freight volumes

Railroad also said it was affected by a slowdown in the B.C.’s forestry sector

PHOTO: Seasons Ponoka remembers

This Veterans’ Week, which was observed Nov. 5 to 11, 2019, each… Continue reading

Most Read