Up until a three-and-a-half minute question and answer with the media after the Toronto Maple Leafs robbed the Edmonton Oilers of whatever was left of their soul on Wednesday night in a 6-2 triumph, John Tavares was largely insulated ahead of the one matchup this season that will cast the brightest spotlight on him. He reversed course and heard pitches from other teams, eventually signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs on July 1, 2018.
The rough ride included having a rubber snake thrown in his direction during warmups and a sweater hurled at him when he exited the ice.
Whether or not the question was inflated with hyperbole, Mike Babcock did have to answer to whether or not he's anxious about Tavares' safety in Long Island after Wednesday's win. "I just tried to go out there and play, and it is what it is". Not exactly. In Tavares' "homecoming" to NY on Thursday, he was jeered mercilessly by the Islander faithful, being called a traitor and a Judas, and some fans repurposed his jersey to reflect their true feelings.
And it got worse during the pregame skate (NSFW language). The game started with chants of "J.T. sucks!" followed by more anatomical comments and eventually, "You're a liar!" Tavares took his first shift 18 seconds into the first period and was loudly booed as soon as he hopped over the boards to take a face-off against Casey Cizikas. The video produced by the Islanders went on for about a minute, with the sound hardly audible over the screaming fans. Richardson, who scored three goals last season, netted his first hat trick since October 2010. Tavares was on the ice, and he raised his stick in acknowledgment.
Tavares didn't let it bother him.
Asked what he would say to the fans if he was given a microphone, Tavares said: "I've made that message many times".
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"They always made it tough on the opponent when I played here", Tavares said. I took a lot of pride in playing here, in being an Islander and being a captain and trying to do everything I can to help this team get to where we wanted to get to.
New York Islanders fans express their sentiments toward Toronto Maple Leafs center John Tavares, who left for Toronto in the offseason after saying he would stay with the Islanders, during the first period of an NHL hockey game between the teams Thursday, Feb. 28, 2019, in Uniondale, N.Y.
Don't hate on Josh Bailey, it's silly.
Sure, the Islanders were a team on the rise, but that's been the case forever. However, his second of the night that was originally deemed a redirection off a Nick Leddy shot was awarded to the defenseman after the game.