Leafs’ Tavares hospitalized after scary hit to face

Toronto Maple Leafs captain John Tavares was taken off the ice on a stretcher after taking a knee to his face Thursday night in Game 1 of the team’s first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.

Tavares gave a thumbs-up as he left the ice at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto and was later taken to a local hospital. Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Tavares was “conscious and communicating well” but will remain hospitalized overnight for further testing. He said the tests Tavares has had so far have “come back clear.”

“It’s a big loss for us, but we’ve got lots of depth. Good teams overcome these types of things. That’s going to be on us,” he said.

Keefe said the collision shook him up and left his players “rattled and concerned.”

“I’ve experienced a lot of different things, a lot of tough injuries like that in my time,” he said. “In an empty building like that, it’s probably the most uncomfortable situation I’ve been a part of on the ice. It was really tough to get through.”

The incident occurred in the first period when Tavares fell to the ice after a hit by Ben Chiarot. As Tavares was falling, he was clipped in the head by a diving Corey Perry.

Tavares, 30, was moving his extremities the entire time. He tried to stand up but couldn’t, losing his balance and falling backward. Several Montreal players, including Perry, went over to wish Tavares well before he was stretchered off.

“I was pretty disheartened to see that happen to such a good guy,” Canadiens goalie Carey Price said. “It’s a sobering reminder that hockey is just a game.”

Perry, who has played with Tavares on Team Canada in international competitions, said he tried to jump over Tavares but that his knee inadvertently struck Tavares’ head.

“I don’t know what else to do there,” Perry said. “I tried to jump. I know Johnny pretty well, and I just hope he’s OK.

“I honestly felt sick to my stomach when I saw it,” he added. “When I saw him, with the way he is, it’s a scary situation. I’ll reach out to him and talk to him and hopefully he’s OK.”

Maple Leafs forward Nick Foligno engaged in a fight with Perry shortly after the game resumed.

“Our captain is laying on the ice,” said Foligno, the former Blue Jackets captain who joined Toronto at the trade deadline. “They would have done the same if [it was] their captain. It wasn’t malicious. [Fighting] takes away any gray area. Perry’s a big boy. It just allows everyone to go back and play.”

Added Perry: “Nick came up to me and said, ‘Let’s just settle this now, not wait.’ And you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.”

Montreal won 2-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.

The Leafs and Canadiens are playing each other in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1979.

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