Maple Leafs' John Tavares visits team's practice facility

Shawn McKenzie and Chris Johnston discuss the Maple Leafs being on the verge of advancing to the next round and how the Montreal Canadiens will go down fighting.

TORONTO -- John Tavares was back at the Toronto Maple Leafs practice facility visiting with teammates less than a week after being stretched off the ice in the opening minutes of Game 1 in a first-round series against Montreal.

The captain paid a visit to Ford Performance Centre on Wednesday, according to head coach Sheldon Keefe, in what should be viewed as an encouraging sign about the status of his recovery from the concussion and knee injury suffered in a scary collision with Corey Perry.

“John’s in the facility here today, kind of reacclimating himself to the group and getting that going,” said Keefe. “There’s a lot of really positive things there, both in his recovery and having him around our group.”

Tavares has already been ruled out for the remainder of this series, with the two-week timeline on his knee injury running through next Thursday. There’s no prescribed schedule attached to his concussion recovery, although NHL protocols require players to remain symptom-free while increasing their exertion in exercise before being medically cleared.

His Leafs teammates have made it a priority to extend their playoff run long enough so that Tavares has a chance to return to the lineup and they hold a 3-1 series lead over the Canadiens heading into Game 5 on Thursday night.

Tavares was part of a frightening collision in just his fifth shift of the series -- getting knocked to the ice by Ben Chiarot before taking Perry’s knee directly to the face at high speed. There were initially concerns that he’d suffered a broken neck or brain bleed, but he was cleared of all neurological tests and released from hospital after spending the night under observation.

Some of the Toronto players were visibly shaken by the incident, but found comfort in the fact Tavares sent a note to the team group chat following their 2-1 loss in Game 1. Keefe dedicated the game puck from their series-tying win two nights later to Tavares and the Leafs FaceTime’d with him following consecutive victories in Montreal this week.

“The players care for him greatly,” said Keefe. “For him to communicate and reach out and stay on that, reassure the guys that he’s doing well, because he has been doing very well and it’s a very good thing for our team. He’s the captain of our group. For him to still be showing those leadership qualities that he has at this time of year is really important and then having him in our post-game gatherings after a win is a nice touch as well.”

Without Tavares and Nick Foligno available to play, the Leafs have seen linemate William Nylander step up his performance. He’s scored a goal in each of the four games in the series and formed an effective line with Alexander Kerfoot and Alex Galchenyuk.

While Nylander says he hasn’t consciously changed anything about his game since Tavares was injured, he appreciated the captain’s efforts to stay involved with the team while recovering at home.

“We get text messages from him before every game, reminding us of what we need to do out there and what our mindset needs to be,” said Nylander. “He’s been a huge support. Obviously he’s been on FaceTime after the wins in the locker room so he’s there every moment.”

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