TORONTO -- Thankfully, John Tavares has no memory of the scary collision that ended his season.
And he hasn’t watched a replay either.
The Toronto Maple Leafs captain saw enough from the reactions of family and friends when discussing the incident to know that it’s something that’s going to be difficult for him to process.
“I don’t think there’s been anyone that’s recommended that I take a look at it. I’m not really sure [if I will],” Tavares said Wednesday in his first public comments since being stretchered off the ice at Scotiabank Arena.
“I think it’ll be a continuing part of my recovery process. Not just my physical health and how I feel, but even just from a psychological standpoint.”
Tavares feels fortunate to have come through the experience in relatively good shape. He suffered a concussion and knee injury 10 minutes into a first-round series with the Montreal Canadiens after getting knocked to the ice by Ben Chiarot and taking Corey Perry’s knee directly to the face at high speed.
The force of the collision snapped Tavares’s head back and had doctors initially worried about the possibility of a broken neck or even a brain bleed. He was unconscious on the ice and didn’t fully come to his senses until being loaded into the ambulance minutes later.
Tavares spent the night in hospital, where neurosurgeons ran a battery of tests and found no structural damage. He received a text from Perry, a former Team Canada teammate, and holds no ill will towards him.
“Perry reached out to me immediately that night,” said Tavares. “From everyone I’ve talked to, there’s no sense of any intent or trying to be dirty or trying to hurt me… I haven’t seen it but from everyone I talked to it just seemed like an unfortunate set of circumstances.
“Corey reached out, sent me a nice message and I’d like to think that there was no intent.”
Tavares resumed skating within days of the incident and was attempting to work his way back in case the Leafs went on a long playoff run. He watched Monday’s Game 7 loss from a suite inside the arena.
Speaking just shy of two weeks after the incident, he said his recovery was going “really well.”
“I feel very fortunate considering what I went through, the traumatic nature of the injury,” said Tavares. “[I’m] really happy and thankful to be where I’m at today and make the progress that I have to this point.”
A healthy Tavares could have made a difference in the series. The Leafs were designed to be a matchup nightmare for opponents with Auston Matthews and Tavares centring the top two lines.
But as the team went through exit meetings and reflected on its season Wednesday morning, they weren’t using his loss or Jake Muzzin’s Game 7 absence with a groin injury as an excuse.
“That’s just life,” said Morgan Rielly. “It just happens. You’re not going to point the finger at that. As a group you have to be able to overcome challenges.”
Tavares described a third straight first-round exit since he signed with the Leafs as “devastating,” particularly after a regular season where they took a big step by leading the North Division basically from wire to wire.
He pointed to slow starts in Games 5, 6 and 7 as the reason why they were unable to close out the Canadiens after building a 3-1 lead in the series.
“Obviously we had strong belief in wanting to accomplish something very special and getting over the hurdles and challenges that we have faced, not just this season but over previous seasons,” said Tavares.
“We feel like we’ve let our fanbase down.”