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

QUIZ: Test your knowledge of Victoria Day

How much do you know about the monarch whose day we celebrate each May?

Convicted animal abuser to return to B.C. court May 21

Catherine Jessica Adams is facing a breach of probation charge

Concerns over democracy as Senate committee votes to nix oil tanker ban

Critics of the Senate’s recommendation to kill Bill C-48 say it goes against popular will

Open casting call issued for Trevor Mack’s first feature-length film

All Indigenous actors, preferably local Chilcotin people, are needed for Portraits From A Fire’s cast

New ferry to B.C.’s central coast sets sail, a year late and $20M over budget

Northern Sea Wolf will cost $76 million when it hits the waters in June

UPDATE: B.C. pilot killed in Honduras plane crash

The crash happened in the Roatan Islands area, according to officials

Raptors beat Bucks 118-112 in 2OT thriller

Leonard has 36 points as Toronto cuts Milwaukee’s series lead to 2-1

‘Teams that win are tight’: B.C. Lions search for chemistry at training camp

The Lions added more than 50 new faces over the off-season, from coaching staff to key players

Rescue crews suspend search for Okanagan kayaker missing for three days

71-year-old Zygmunt Janiewicz was reported missing Friday

B.C. VIEWS: Reality of our plastic recycling routine exposed

Turns out dear old China wasn’t doing such a great job

Carbon dioxide at highest levels for over 2.5 million years, expert warns of 100 years of disruption

CO2 levels rising rapidly, now higher than at any point in humanity’s history

B.C. residential school survivor’s indomitable human spirit centre of school play

Terrace theatre company plans to revive Nisga’a leader Larry Guno’s Bunk #7 next year

B.C. ferry stops to let black bear swim past near Nanaimo

Queen of Oak Bay brakes for wildlife in Nanaimo’s Departure Bay

Mother dead, child in critical condition after carbon monoxide poisoning at Shuswap campground

The woman was found unresponsive insider her tent and the youth was taken via air ambulance to hospital

Most Read