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

Richard Hill’s bird photographs at the Nelson library

‘Big and Small: Birds Found in the West Kootenay’ is on display through June

Energy efficiency session at the Nelson Public Library

Nelson Hydro customers who are seniors are now eligible for free weatherization upgrades

Local Parachutes for the Planet visit B.C. Legislature

Nelson students made parachutes to push for climate change action

REPLAY: The best videos from across B.C. this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week in the province

Mistrial declared in Jamie Bacon murder plot trial

Bacon was on trial for counselling to commit the murder of Person X

B.C. VIEWS: Money-laundering melodrama made for TV

Public inquiry staged to point fingers before 2021 election

Canadian homebuyers escaping high housing costs by moving to secondary cities

In British Columbia, exurbs have grown in the Hope Valley and Kamloops

Feds lay out proposed new rules for voice, video recorders in locomotives

Transport Canada wants to limit use of recorders to if a crew’s actions led to a crash

Raptors beat Bucks 100-94 to advance to franchise’s first-ever NBA Finals

Leonard has 27 points, 17 boards to lead Toronto past Milwaukee

Third person charged in death of B.C. teen found in torched SUV

Inderdeep Kaur Deo facing charge of accessory after the fact to murder

Kamloops girl, 9, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning now out of ICU

Her mother who was sleeping in the same tent with her did not survive

‘I think he’s still alive’: B.C. mom pleads for help finding son last seen a month ago

Family offering $5,000 reward for information leading to the safe return of Tim Delahaye

Most Read