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

RCMP renew request for help finding missing Nakusp man

Christopher Sanford was reported missing Aug. 5

Anglican churches in Nelson, Balfour, Kaslo to marry same-gender couples

Rev. Jeff Donnelly says he’d love to host LGBTQ weddings

De Groot family still waiting for inquest after 2014 Slocan shooting

Lawyer for Peter De Groot’s family say many questions remain unanswered

Fusing two projects into one at Kootenay Boundary Regional Hospital

Construction change includes second story to new wing at KBRH

Four-year-old girl one of two killed in highway crash near Creston

The 26-year-old driver of a Saturn SUV was also killed

VIDEO: Langley Ribfest met with protesters

Groups that oppose the event for various reasons plan to be on site each of the three days.

Canadians killed in Afghanistan honoured during emotional dedication ceremony

One-hundred-fifty-eight Canadian soldiers died during the mission

‘I’m just absolutely disgusted’: Husband furious after B.C. Mountie’s killer gets day parole

Kenneth Fenton was sentenced to prison after he fatally struck Const. Sarah Beckett’s cruiser

Sea-to-Sky Gondola in B.C. likely out of commission until 2020

Sea to Sky Gondola carries between 1,500 and 3,000 people every day during the summer season

It’s snow joke: Up to 30 cm of snow expected to fall in northeastern B.C.

Alaska Highway, Fort Nelson to be hit with August snowstorm, according to Environment Canada

Helicopter-riding dog Mr. Bentley now featured on cans of new B.C.-made beer

Partial proceeds from every pack go to Children’s Wish

PHOTOS: Weapons seized at Portland right-wing rally, counterprotests

Not all who gathered Saturday were with right-wing groups or antifa

Discussion on grief and loss between Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper goes viral

The exchange includes emotional question from Cooper, and outlook on grief as a child

Toronto activist calling on federal parties to nominate more black candidates

Fewer than 20 black Canadians have been nominated so far, including some Liberal MPs seeking re-election

Most Read