Toronto's Tavares reunites with old foe Rangers
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On Saturday, John Tavares experienced the rivalry between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens for the first time as a visitor.
On Sunday, he will make an appearance in a place he is highly familiar with from his years as part of the rivalry between the New York Rangers and Islanders when the Maple Leafs continue their season-high six-game road trip at Madison Square Garden.
When Tavares entered free agency last summer after nearly a decade with the Islanders, some Rangers fans dreamed of him switching sides. Instead, Tavares returned home and join the Toronto Maple Leafs -- a move that's worked for both sides.
Tavares is tied for the second-most goals after scoring his 33rd goal 2:17 into overtime off a pass from Mitch Marner as the Maple Leafs ran their winning streak to four with a 4-3 victory in the opener of the trip. He has three goals in his last three games and his 33 tallies are tied with Buffalo's Jeff Skinner.
"Mitch fed it into the perfect spot so I was able to kind of already start to plan ahead before I even got it," Tavares said after getting the game-winner against Carey Price. "I know he was going to challenge hard and it's the bait whether you want to be patient and try and go around him."
"We found a way to just hang on, hang on and then we won the game," Toronto coach Mike Babcock said after his team killed a penalty to start overtime. "Good game to win. I thought it was tightly contested, I thought there was no room either way and, in the end, we found a way to win."
Tavares also had an assist Saturday and the Maple Leafs continued to win when he gets a multi-point game. They are 17-1-0 in those games, one being a 5-3 win in Toronto on Dec. 22 over the Rangers when Tavares registered a pair of assists.
Tavares has 11 multi-point games in 44 career games against the Rangers and his teams are 8-3-1 in those games.
Toronto enters Sunday with four straight wins and attempts to match a season-high fifth straight win for the fourth time.
The Rangers spent Friday honoring the 1994 team that won the team's lone Stanley Cup since 1940. After making the playoffs in 11 of 12 seasons, the Rangers face an uphill climb to avoid missing them for the second straight season.
New York is nine points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the second wild-card spot and will likely start selling pieces before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
The Rangers are 8-9-3 in their last 20 games since their last meeting with Toronto and have lost four of six (2-3-1) since the All-Star break with a pair of shutout losses at home to Philadelphia and Carolina.
On Friday, the Rangers were blanked for the fifth time against the Hurricanes.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for our guys to be around something we're all inspired to do, win a Cup here in New York," Rangers coach David Quinn said. "It's disappointing in a lot of ways."
The Rangers will hope to turn in a better display Sunday, especially center Mats Zuccarello along with linemates Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider. In the last 10 games all three players have appeared in, the trio owns 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists) and since Jan. 17, the trio has scored 13 of New York's last 18 regulation goals.
Toronto has won four straight from the Rangers and is 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings.
--Field Level Media
Updated February 10, 2019