‘The guys remain confident’ despite losing Tavares, Leafs coach says


With their captain out, Toronto’s lineup changes for Game 2 will include the additions of former Hab Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre Engvall.

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While John Tavares has been discharged from a Toronto hospital, the Maple Leafs realize they must forge ahead against the Canadiens in their North Division playoff series without their captain and leader, who is sidelined indefinitely.

This is nothing new for the Leafs, who were without the suspended Nazem Kadri two years ago in the post-season, and the injured Jake Muzzin last summer. Toronto failed to advance beyond the opening round both times and, after Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Montreal in Game 1, again faces adversity.

The series resumes Saturday night (7 p.m., CBC, SN, TVA Sports, TSN Radio 690, 98.5 FM) at Scotiabank Arena.

“Now we have to pick up, not just from (the Tavares injury) but from a loss,” Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe said Friday during a video conference. “We’ve got to gather ourselves and be better. The guys don’t like what happened (Thursday) night … the result, of course. They recognize we can be a whole lot better.

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“It’s a long series. Playoffs have lots of ups and downs, twists and turns. It’s on us here to respond. The guys remain confident.”

It might not be a long series should the Leafs come to Montreal trailing by two games. Teams are often thrust into must-win situations, but Keefe and his players know the magnitude of Game 2.

“When you’re in a playoff series and you’ve lost one game, you need to respond — it’s as simple as that,” Keefe said. “You don’t want to lose two in a row at any time. We can attach any cliché we want to it. We just have to play better and win a hockey game (Saturday).”

The organization released a statement Friday morning, updating Tavares’ status after he was discharged by the neurological team at St. Michael’s Hospital. He’ll remain under the supervision of team physicians while at home, although Keefe confirmed the 30-year-old suffered a concussion after his head was struck by Corey Perry’s knee.

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While it was clear Tavares’ teammates remain concerned, he has communicated with many of them to assuage their fears.

“We have to go out and change the narrative,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly, who played a strong game, generating five shots during more than 22 minutes of ice time. “They’re up 1-0. We have to tie it up. We’re playing for (Tavares).”

The Leafs’ depth will be tested. Toronto will activate former Canadien Alex Galchenyuk, along with Pierre Engvall for Game 2. Riley Nash, who made his Leafs debut on Thursday following his April acquisition from Columbus, will be a healthy scratch. Left-winger Nick Foligno will move to centre — in effect replacing Tavares — on a line with Galchenyuk and William Nylander.

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But there are numerous other hurdles facing the team in its attempt to get back into the series.

The Canadiens, not generally known for their faceoff prowess, won 56 per cent of the draws on Thursday. And while the series was expected to be physical, Montreal was credited with 55 hits, compared with only 27 by Toronto. The Leafs, who entered the series on a dreadful power-play run (5-of-73), went 0-for-4 while allowing a short-handed goal, although Toronto hit a post and crossbar.

“I don’t know who it is that counts the hits, but they’re definitely not a Leafs fan,” Keefe quipped. “As a team, we definitely need to be more engaged.”

And, although it’s only one game, the high-scoring Leafs must find a way to beat Carey Price. Playing his first game since suffering a concussion on April 19, Price was brilliant, stopping 35 shots.

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Auston Matthews, who led the NHL in goals, with 41, generated a team-high eight shots in nearly 24 minutes’ ice time — but didn’t produce a point.

“We had some good chances and looks, which is all you can ask for,” Matthews said. “It’s on us to capitalize on those opportunities. We want to keep shooting and creating those chances. In our minds, it’s going to go in eventually.

“It’s one game,” he added. “We’re down 1-0. You can’t win a series in one game.”

hzurkowsky@postmedia.com

twitter.com/HerbZurkowsky1

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