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Tavares considered Bruins 'quite a bit' before signing with Maple Leafs

Center was impressed with playoff opponent's pitch prior to free agency

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- It's been more than nine months since John Tavares sat at a table listening to Boston Bruins management recruit him.

The Bruins were one of six teams invited to the offices of agent Pat Brisson and CAA Hockey in Los Angeles in late June to make their pitches to the veteran center, who was due to become an unrestricted free agent July 1. The others were the New York Islanders, his team for the previous nine seasons, and the San Jose Sharks, Dallas Stars, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.

Tavares, who signed a seven-year, $77 million contract with his hometown Maple Leafs, said the Bruins contingent of president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy made him seriously ponder what playing for Boston might be like.

 

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

 

"They were a great team to meet with and definitely a team I thought about for quite a bit," Tavares said the other day. "They're a very impressive group."

One that Tavares will now have to go through to achieve his goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

In his first playoff series with the Maple Leafs, Tavares will face the Bruins in the Eastern Conference First Round. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"Funny how things work out like that, isn't it?" he said with a laugh. "Now I get to go against them in the first round and for many years ahead.

"That's a team with a solid structure and organization. I know how hard it will be to face them."

Video: CAR@TOR: Tavares knocks in own rebound for PPG

Toronto and Boston are facing each other in the first round for the second consecutive season. The Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs last season with a 7-4 win in Game 7 after trailing 4-3 entering the third period.

Tavares quickly became an offseason target for a Toronto, which was disappointed by its early playoff exit. The same could be said for Boston, which was eliminated in five games by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round.

Looking back, Tavares said Boston made a compelling case when the two sides met.

"I'd already had a lot of respect and a really good impression of what the Boston Bruins had been for basically a decade and playing against them a lot. You're impressed by the way they work together. How they try to build their hockey team and how they envision having success in both the short and long terms. 

"The professionalism, structure and attention to detail goes right through the organization, and you see that trickle down to the type of players they have on the ice that have set the tone for them for a long time. Those are major points."

Cassidy came away from the meeting hoping Tavares had been sold on Boston, but it wasn't to be. In the end, he chose the Maple Leafs, the team he'd grown up rooting for in Oakville, Ontario.

"I like the guy," Cassidy said in a phone interview last week. "He's honest. He got to the points he wanted, the questions he wanted answered. I have a lot of respect for him.

"I don't judge him by the choice he made. He had his choice of teams. Good for him. I found him to come off as a true professional, a good guy, a solid guy. Now the opposition, unfortunately, but a good guy."

Video: Previewing the Leafs vs. Bruins First Round matchup

Tavares, who set NHL career highs in goals (47) and points (88) this season, expects that he and center Auston Matthews (73 points; 37 goals, 36 assists) will be focal points of the Bruins game plan. Boston has shutdown experts in defenseman Zdeno Chara and center Patrice Bergeron; the two played a significant role in limiting Matthews to two points (one goal, one assist) in the series last season.

"They've been there for a long time," Tavares said. "They take a lot of pride in making sure they're tough to play against and those two guys have done it for a long time. That's why it should be fun to try to raise your game to their level and have success."

Also fun for Tavares: playing for the Maple Leafs in the postseason. The Islanders missed the playoffs six times in his nine seasons in New York.

"I haven't been in the playoffs in a few years and that's what it's about, that's what you play for," he said. "As you get older, you only appreciate it more and more. You have to take each opportunity and take advantage of it because you never know how many more chances you'll get. You can never take it for granted."

Tavares has 22 points (11 goals, 11 assists) in 24 NHL playoff games.

"To be back and to be a part of it, I can't wait," he said. "It's the best time of year, the most fun hockey to play in and certainly being my first playoff experience as a Maple Leaf and what the team means to the city and to the team and to these people, you know it'll be a pretty special experience around town and around Scotiabank Arena.

"You want to be able to look back at it and say, 'This was a special run, this was a lot of fun.' So we know we have a lot of work ahead of us."

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