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First Round

Tavares looking to make difference in first Game 7 with Maple Leafs

Faces Bruins hoping to help Toronto avenge loss in deciding game last season

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- When the Toronto Maple Leafs signed John Tavares to a seven-year, $77 million contract on July 1, the expectation was that he would be a difference-maker on the big stage.

Here's his chance to prove it. 

The forward can help change the narrative for the Maple Leafs, who have lost Game 7 the past two times against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden (2013, 2018), when they play there in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, CBC, TVAS, NESN).


[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]


His teammates believe he can.

"I think Johnny's been a huge part of our team the whole year including playoffs," linemate Zach Hyman said. "We depend on him a lot. He drives a big part of our train. It's important we have a guy like that on our team."

That's exactly the thought process the Maple Leafs had after a 7-4 loss to the Bruins in Game 7 last season. Toronto had taken a 4-3 lead into the third period before allowing four goals in the final 20 minutes. It left a bitter taste in the mouths of everyone associated with the Maple Leafs.

Video: Marchand, Bruins defeat Maple Leafs to force Game 7

Wooing Tavares to the team he'd rooted for growing up in the Toronto-area community of Oakville, was seen as a coup for the Maple Leafs, and he didn't disappoint. Tavares finished third in the NHL in goals with 47 and was the catalyst for a line that combined for 223 points in the regular season with Tavares scoring 88, Mitchell Marner with 94 (26 goals, 68 assists) and Zach Hyman with 41 (21 goals, 20 assists).

Tavares has assumed more of a defensive role in the playoffs, especially in head-to-head matchups against the Bruins top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. It's a job coach Mike Babcock said Tavares has embraced.

"I would say to you that he has been a difference-maker and has made our team better and has been excellent all the way through," Babcock said. "He's playing against real good players and I think he's been excellent in the series …

"Be out there, loose and driving, and do what you do. Compete hard. You're competing hard against good players who are competing hard against you. Something's going to give. Make sure it's your way."

The work ethic shown by Tavares however, has not translated onto a scoreboard.

Tavares has one goal, an empty-netter that sealed a 4-1 victory in Game 1. He has four points (one goal, three assists) in the series but has been held without a point in the past two games. Boston's 4-2 victory in Game 6 on Sunday was the first game in the series in which Tavares did not register a shot.

Video: TOR@BOS, Gm1: Marner pots second goal on penalty shot

Marner has two goals in the series, both in Game 1, and has been held pointless in the past two games. Hyman's lone point was a goal in a 6-4 loss in Game 4, although he is counted on more for his grit than his offense.

The glue that the holds the line together is Tavares, always unflappable, always digging, always looking to be better. Now he has the opportunity to do just that, especially after the lessons learned in Game 6.

"They really defend with all five guys in the interior," said Tavares, who lost his only other previous Game 7, with the New York Islanders in 2015. "We've just got to continue to be patient."

How difficult a task will that be, considering Toronto missed a prime opportunity to close out the series with a win in Game 6 on home ice?

"Well, it is what it is now so we've still got a good chance to win this series," he said. "That's where our focus is on now. It's over with now. Obviously, we would have loved to get it done (in Game 6) but that wasn't the case."

Now his lone focus at the moment is winning on Tuesday.

"We have an opportunity," he said. "We have to make the most of it." 

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