The captain visited the Ford Performance Center on Wednesday, according to head coach Sheldon Keefe, in what should be taken as an encouraging sign on the state of his recovery from the concussion and knee injury suffered during the ‘a frightening collision with Corey Perry.
“John is in the facility here today, sort of re-acclimating to the group and getting things done,” Keefe said. “There are a lot of really positive things there, both in his recovery and in his presence in our group.
Tavares has already been ruled out for the remainder of this series, with the two-week schedule on his knee injury happening next Thursday. There is no prescribed time for his recovery from a concussion, although NHL protocols require players to be symptom-free while increasing their exercise effort before being medically cleared.
His Leafs teammates have made it a priority to extend their playoff series long enough for Tavares to have a chance to get back into the lineup and they hold a 3-1 lead over the Canadiens heading into Game 5 on Thursday night.
Tavares was part of a frightening collision in his fifth shift of the series – being hit on the ice by Ben Chiarot before taking Perry’s knee straight to the face at high speed. It was initially feared that he suffered a broken neck or a brain hemorrhage, but he was released from all neurological tests and was released from the hospital after spending the night under observation.
Some of the Toronto players were visibly shaken by the incident, but found solace in the fact that Tavares sent a note to the team’s group chat after their 2-1 loss in Game 1. Keefe a dedicated the game puck to their two-night series victory. later at Tavares and the Leafs FaceTime with him after back-to-back wins in Montreal this week.
“The players care about him a lot,” Keefe said. “For him, communicate, reach out and stay on that, reassure the guys that he’s fine, because he’s doing really well and that’s a very good thing for our team. He’s the captain of our group. For him it’s really important to keep showing his leadership qualities at this time of year and having him in our post-game gatherings after a win is a good idea as well.
Without Tavares and Nick Foligno available to play, the Leafs saw their linemate William Nylander step up his performance. He scored one goal in each of the series’ four games and formed an effective line with Alexander Kerfoot and Alex Galchenyuk.
Although Nylander claims he hasn’t consciously changed anything in his game since Tavares was injured, he appreciated the captain’s efforts to stay involved with the squad while recovering at home.
“We get texts from him before every game, reminding us what we need to do there and what our state of mind needs to be,” Nylander said. “He’s been a huge support. Obviously, he’s been on FaceTime after the locker room wins, so he’s there every moment.