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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greater Victoria sheriffs, local business deliver food to those struggling with mental health

More than $900 worth of groceries were delivered to members of the Connections Place Society

Swan Lake south wharf demolition complete, area remains off-limits

Sanctuary staff working to ‘re-naturalize’ the south end of the lake

New #yyjegghunt2020 joins the ranks of fun, social distancing activities in Greater Victoria

With hearts and lights illuminating windows and doorways across Greater Victoria as… Continue reading

COVID-19: Victoria hopes to provide financial relief through property taxes, utility bills

A number of city projects could be deferred in light of pandemic

Mental Health: Planning for a crisis

Crisis planning lays out a blueprint in case hard times hit

Thieves steal $5,000 worth of cigarettes and candy from semi trailer in Nanaimo

Culprits hit truckload in shipping company storage yard on Old Victoria Road on Monday

B.C. secures motel, hotel rooms for COVID-19 shelter space

Community centres, rooms reserved for pandemic self-isolation

Sanders drops 2020 bid, leaving Biden as likely nominee

Sanders plans to talk to his supporters later Wednesday

B.C. faith leaders, Horgan discuss need for virtual religious ceremonies

Leaders were open to providing other ways to celebrate during the pandemic

Emergency COVID-19 funding now available for children with special needs

Funding to be used to help support families through uncertain times of pandemic

Revenue dip needed to qualify for wage subsidy drops to 15% in March: Trudeau

Wage subsidy would over 75% of each employee’s salary for qualifying businesses

B.C. closes all provincial parks for COVID-19 protection

Easter weekend approaches, camping already closed

Most Read