Leafs' Tavares cleared of structural damage to head, neck, spine

Sportsnet's Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston discuss the latest surrounding John Tavares and what kind of response the Toronto Maple Leafs will need in Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens.

TORONTO -- This was the best news possible given the violent nature of the collision.

John Tavares suffered no damage to his head, neck or spine after taking Corey Perry’s knee to the head at high speed on Thursday night, but Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas made it clear that a patient approach will be taken with his captain’s return to health.

Tavares will miss a minimum of two weeks with a knee sprain suffered on the hit he took from Ben Chiarot that knocked him to the ice just before the accidental collision with Perry – ruling him out for at least the remainder of a first-round series with Montreal.

Placing a timetable on how long beyond that Tavares might need to recover from his concussion isn’t yet possible, according to Dubas.

"We handle those in a very conservative nature and handle them very sensitively," Dubas said Saturday before Game 2 of the Leafs-Canadiens series. "We can’t replace that element with John and can’t repair it. We have to be very careful and keep in mind he’s got a young family and there’s an onus on us to protect him and his future in that regard."

The fact there can even be some discussion about a return at all is a massive sigh of relief.

Cameras showed Dubas bolting from the management box with phone in hand after Tavares went down in Game 1, immediately calling his wife Aryne to act as a conduit with the medical staff.

It’s something he’s experienced a couple times since taking the job, staying behind with Ilya Mikheyev in a Newark hospital for three days in December 2019 after the player had an artery and tendons in his wrist severed by a skate blade and leaving the NHL bubble last August to accompany Jake Muzzin to hospital after he was stretchered off with a spinal issue.

"I just think about my own family, if something had happened to me, I would never want them to be unaware of what was happening," said Dubas.

Tavares was taken by ambulance to St. Michael’s Hospital after being stretchered off the ice at Scotiabank Arena and underwent a CT scan and MRI. Head team physician Dr. Noah Forman accompanied him, and they consulted with the hospital’s lead neurosurgeon and neuroradiologist.

Once cleared of any structural damage and after spending a night in hospital for observation, Tavares was discharged Friday morning and returned home.

Dubas said he’s been floored with the outpouring of support from rival executives, fans and those in the NHL office. He specifically singled out the empathy shown by the Canadiens in the middle of a playoff series.

"I think it just shows the type of league that we’re in," said Dubas.

The Leafs general manager made it clear that he didn’t appreciate the way the Toronto Sun handled the story on its cover of the Friday paper, which ran with a photo of Tavares clearly dazed and bleeding from his head along with the headline: "Captain Crunched."

"I think that situations like that garner a significant amount of coverage, but as an organization we felt yesterday that the Toronto Sun cover of their newspaper crossed the line and we found the cover to be disgusting," said Dubas. "I understand and we understand here that writers and columnists have no input into the covers of papers or headlines, but we just thought that it was extraordinarily insensitive on the part of the Sun with regards to the photo and the caption that accompanied the situation yesterday. Just a complete lack of compassion and respect on behalf of the Sun towards John and his family, especially for such an upstanding member of our organization and community and his family that had to endure that."

That issue aside, the Leafs were looking to rally around their captain and tie up their series with the Canadiens. Defenceman Justin Holl said that the singular focus of the group was finding a way to play long enough this spring for Tavares to return and have an impact.

The players had been shaken up by what they saw when their teammate was injured, but could take heart from the fact the incident wasn’t as bad for Tavares as it initially appeared.

"Now it’s just a matter of giving him time to rest and recover," said head coach Sheldon Keefe.

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