TORONTO (AP) — John Tavares answered three questions about a resounding Toronto Maple Leafs victory before the attention turned to what was on everyone’s mind: the star center’s return to New York.
Tavares spent nine seasons with the Islanders, including six as the team’s captain, before leaving as a free agent for the team he rooted for while growing up in the suburbs west of Toronto.
“I fully embraced being an Islander,” said Tavares, who had a goal and an assist in the Maple Leafs’ 6-2 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. “I loved it and I gave it everything I had.”
Many Islanders fans were disappointed Tavares left the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2009, and he’s likely in for a less-than-friendly reception on Long Island on Thursday night when the Maple Leafs are in town for the first time this season.
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“I had every right to go through the process that I went through (in free agency),” Tavares said. “I tried to be open and honest when I made my decision. I had no idea what I was going to do until I made my decision. People can take it any way they want.
“All I can do is control what I can control.”
And right now, that’s helping the Maple Leafs win.
Andreas Johnsson scored twice during Toronto’s four-goal outburst in a seven-minute stretch to open the second period and the Maple Leafs cruised past the Oilers. Mitch Marner added a goal and two assists, while William Nylander and Patrick Marleau each had a goal and an assist for Toronto. Frederik Andersen made 34 saves for the Maple Leafs.
“Every line’s playing, being hard to play against,” Tavares said. “It makes us tough to match up against.”
Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, whose team crept back within a point of Boston for second in the Atlantic Division, suggested that Tavares’ return to New York is something the star player needs to “put to bed.”
“The great thing about fans is they pay their money and get to say whatever they want,” Babcock said. “He’s a good man. He was good for their franchise, he’s great for our franchise.
“He made a decision to come home. I don’t know if anyone can fault you for that.”
Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins scored for Edmonton. Mikko Koskinen allowed four goals on 16 shots before being replaced by Anthony Stolarz, who finished with 18 saves. Darnell Nurse had two assists.
“Too many little mistakes,” said Draisaitl, who scored his 39th goal of the season, and 15th in the last 15 games, in the first period. “If you have too many little mistakes against this team, clearly, they’ll take full advantage of that. That’s what they did.”
Oilers star Connor McDavid returned to the lineup after serving his two-game suspension for a hit to the head on Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy last week. Wednesday marked another homecoming for McDavid, who grew up in a suburb just north of Toronto and cheered for the Leafs as a kid.
The 22-year-old had sat out three of Edmonton’s last four games — one with illness and two because of the suspension — with his team managing five of a possible six points. The Oilers came in with six out of a possible eight points in their last four outings, but were also just 3-8-4 over the last 15.
Tied at 1 after the first period, the floodgates opened for Toronto at 1:09 when Marner redirected a perfect feed from Zach Hyman under Koskinen’s blocker for his 22nd goal of the season, and just his second in the last 14 games.
The Leafs then went up 3-1 just 1:17 later when Johnsson finished off a pretty passing play with Kasperi Kapanen and Auston Matthews for his 18th.
Nylander got in on the action on the power play at 4:50 when he ripped his fifth short-side upstairs on Koskinen, who gave way to Stolarz.
Johnsson rounded out the seven-minute deluge on another man-advantage when he took a feed from Tavares in the slot and beat Stolarz through the pads for his second of the night.
“The puck has been going in,” said Johnsson, who has four goals in his last four outings. “I’m going to keep working.”
Tavares made it 6-1 with his 36th on a 5-on-3 power play 25 seconds into the third. Nugent-Hopkins scored his 20th with 3:54 left to round out the scoring.
It wasn’t all good news for the Leafs, however, as defenseman Travis Dermott went straight to the locker room midway through the final period doubled over in pain favoring his left arm/shoulder after taking a hit along the boards.
Marleau moved into a tie with Ron Francis for 28th on the NHL’s all-time goals list with 549. … The Leafs announced defenseman Jake Gardiner is week-to-week with a back injury, while center Nazem Kadri missed a fourth straight game with a concussion. Kadri skated before Monday’s practice.
Oilers: visit Ottawa on Thursday night.
Maple Leafs: at New York Islanders on Thursday night.
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