The Toronto Maple Leafs dedicated their 5-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup First Round to injured captain John Tavares, forward Auston Matthews said Saturday.
“This one was for him, obviously,” Matthews said. “He’s our captain, he’s our leader.”
Matthews scored three points (one goal, two assists) to help even the best-of-7 series at Scotiabank Arena. Game 3 is at Montreal on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
Tavares will need at least two weeks to recover from a knee injury, in addition to the concussion the forward sustained with 9:31 remaining in the first period of Game 1 on Thursday. He was injured when he fell near the blue line after being checked by Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot and then was hit in the face by the left knee of forward Corey Perry.
Tavares scored 50 points (19 goals, 31 assists) in 56 games this season, third on the Maple Leafs behind Mitchell Marner (67) and Matthews (66). Matthews said they needed to man-up in the absence of Tavares, who has scored 30 points (15 goals, 15 assists) in 37 playoff games.
By doing exactly that, there was a special feeling after the game.
“It means a lot, not only for the guys in the locker room but for John himself,” Matthews said. “He’s such a big part of this team. He’s our leader.
“When something really scary and serious goes down like it did the other night, I think the response from our group was unbelievable tonight. The guys that came in stepped up big. This was a big win to even up the series.”
Forwards Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall filled in for Tavares and forward Riley Nash, who made his Toronto debut in Game 1. Galchenyuk played 11:06 and Engvall played 11:08.
Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe credited Tavares for helping to keep his teammates’ spirits up. He was hospitalized Thursday and returned home Friday.
“Credit to John, his leadership of our team despite his situation did not stop,” Keefe said. “He sent messages out and reassured the team, and I thought that really helped put guys in the right head space. We had great concern and fear in that moment, but after feeling better he made sure to communicate to his teammates, and that really helped push past it.
“We miss him greatly on the ice, we miss him greatly in the room. We don’t like he wasn’t able to be with us in the building, but the guys refocused and played. You’re winning for him, all the guys that don’t get to play, for the guy next to you on the bench. There’s all sorts of reasons to compete, and we have another one here to make sure everybody is on board and doing their job.”