John Tavares: Go big or go home

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On Monday night, at least for the 2018-19 regular season, John Tavares had his final chance to one-up his former team, the New York Islanders. Of course, there’s always the chance that these two teams could face off again in the conference finals, but for the time being, this was the last foreseeable meeting between the two playoff contenders. And what a game it was for the Toronto native.

In Toronto fashion, John Tavares didn’t do things the easy way. In his first two meetings with Long Island, Tavares failed to get on the board as Toronto was blown out twice consecutively by the Cinderella Islanders.

To add insult to injury, not only did Tavares and the Leafs fail to put a dent onto the scoreboard, on either occasion, but they allowed the Islanders to push them around and walk all over them while the fanbase made a mockery of John Tavares’ Legacy on the Island.

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Entering Monday’s game, the leafs had an opportunity to answer the Islanders and silence their fans once and for all. Considering the present history between the Leafs and Islanders, involving the movement of certain player personnel, coaches and management, on top of the John Tavares signing, the significance of a “W” was much more then two seemingly meaningless points at the back end of a long season.

If you didn’t get a chance to catch the game, spoiler alert, John Tavares and the Leafs wouldn’t have had it any other way; aside from a third-period goal which eliminated Frederick Andersens chance to pull off a shutout, the night was all maple Leafs.

Again, in Toronto fashion, John Tavares didn’t just gain closure by scoring a meaningless goal. Not just a goal that would pay homage to the old school adage, “a player must gain revenge against their old team by putting one in the back of the net.” No, he scored what inevitably would be his career high marker in points with 87. There was no better way to shut the door on the past and payback the disrespect of Islanders fans then by reaching a career high, one that he could not obtain within nine seasons in Long Island.

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It doesn’t stop there though, not only was the payback goal his career high marker in points but it also happened to be the game-winning goal in a hockey battle that saw the leafs leave Long Island the 3-1 victors. Any sports fan can see the value in what John Tavares was able to accomplish last night but believe it or not, there’s more.

The game-winning goal from Monday’s game actually won the Leafs more than just the game, it was the game winning goal in their playoff clinching game. For the third year in a row, the Toronto Maple Leafs are assured a playoff spot and the guy who pulled the trigger this time, was none other then former New York Islander, John Tavares; oh sweet revenge.

This is one meeting that Tavares will surely remember; with such a powerful storyline that goes back to July 1st (or even further if you include the whole childhood dream thing), you could not think of a better outcome, closing off his first season as a Maple leaf and as one of the biggest UFA signing in sports history.

Or maybe there is a way? Saving the best for last, John Tavares did in-fact surpass any expectation of what could only be described as a “memorable night”. For those who don’t fully understand, you need only ask Leaf legend Darryl sittler, who’s single season record for the most goals by a Leafs centerman (with 45), was finally broken last night after 41 years. Yes, you heard that correct, John Tavares now holds the record for the most goals by a leaf centerman in a single season, in just his first with the Leafs.

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In Toronto fashion, John Tavares and the Maple Leafs couldn’t seem to get the monkey off their back and would fall to the New York Islanders not once, but twice and both times they looked just like the hot mess we’ve seen far too much over the last half century. But when finally called upon to topple their goliath and overcame themselves, John Tavares and the Toronto Maple leafs heard a voice say, “go big or go home” and they answered the call the best way they could, two-hundred feet both ways and between the pipes.

When hockey fans look back, only a few will remember what this game meant to the Leafs and even fewer will remember what it meant to John Tavares but when history looks back, it will always remember last night as the night John Tavares scored his first ever goal against his former New York Islanders, while winning the game, clinching the playoffs and breaking a 41 year old Leafs record, all in the process of reaching his individual career high in points.

For the Leafs, it’s on to the next goliath as once again, the Toronto Maple Leafs will face off against the Boston Bruins in what expects to be another epic playoff showdown. In Toronto fashion, no one expects the Leafs to take the easy route, no matter how much panic-inducing pain this will cause the fan base and coach Mike Babcock. One thing is certain though, like John Tavares did in Long Island, the Leafs will be looking for some closure and to not only topple their goliath but to overcome themselves.

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By Paul Kornatz

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