Maple Leafs’ John Tavares expecting more hostility in Long Island rematch

Tim and Sid discuss if all the other season long storylines going on with the Toronto Maple Leafs are hiding an excellent season by John Tavares.

John Tavares is too diplomatic to say it, but it’s high time the Toronto Maple Leafs show up for a game against his former team.

The New York Islanders, who clinched an improbable playoff spot Saturday night (something the Leafs have yet to accomplish), will host Tavares’ Leafs for the second and final time this season Monday at Nassau Coliseum, where they laid waste to Toronto 6-1 in Tavares’s much-hyped Feb. 28 return game.

“Absolutely, we want to get that one for him, just like when we go back and play San Jose or we go back next year and play L.A., we want to get one for those guys [Patrick Marleau and Jake Muzzin] who played in that area,” said Auston Matthews, following Saturday’s 4-2 loss in Ottawa.

“The first time we played them, the crowd was crazy. A crazy atmosphere. I’m sure it’ll be pretty similar this time, so we obviously want to get this game for John.”

Toronto was also blown out, 4-0, the one time it hosted the Isles this season, on Dec. 29.

The Nassau faithful were nothing short of vicious in how they “welcomed” back Tavares last month, destroying No. 91 sweaters in the parking lot, throwing plastic snakes during warm-up, dressing up in “Pajama Boy” outfits, and chanting expletives at their departed star throughout his video tribute.

So nasty was the reception, Toronto fans felt compelled to give Tavares an extra-warm salute during his first game back at Scotiabank Arena.

“I’m sure it’ll probably be somewhat similar. It is what it is. I’m just going to go out there, try to play well and help the Maple Leafs,” Tavares said.

“It’s just part of it. Hopefully we can play better than we have. Obviously, they’ve played us well, but I don’t think we’ve played our best against them either. Hopefully get a good day to regroup, respond and get back at it.”

Mike Babcock said expects a “fun” affair and declined, at least publicly, to play the win-one-for-JT card.

“We want to win every night. We’re selfish that way. We want to win for one another, we want to win for our fans, we want to win for ourselves. This will be no different,” the coach said.

“You do good things, good things will happen. Get prepared. Let’s go.”

The hostility of Nassau last time was the closest a regular-season hockey atmosphere can get to playoff-level intensity, and with a chance to redeem Tavares, officially clinch a post-season spot and match the franchise road wins records, the Leafs have more than enough incentive to get amped up for the rematch.

“Everyone in our locker room has experienced playing in a tough environment, playing on the road in the playoffs,” Tavares downplayed. “We’ll just get going.”

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