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Maple Leafs Coach Sheldon Keefe Loved The Reaction From John Tavares After Getting Felled By Tom Wilson

Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe would like to see his team continue to deal with opponents the way they responded to the Washington Capitals’ Tom Wilson on Monday night.

The response is exactly how Keefe wants to see his players stand up to adversity.

With six regulation minutes left in the game and scores tied, Wilson was seen throwing John Tavares to the ice in what was an overt show of aggression. Neither Tavares, nor his teammates responded to Wilson immediately or got in his face, but the comeuppance came through nonetheless.

Keefe was asked if he felt Tavares’ teammates should have backed him up right away after watching the replay. He pointed out that it probably didn’t matter to the captain anyway.

“It can go both ways for me. I think there is a symbolic part of it, where you’re staying together and all that. But you can say whatever you want to Tom Wilson – it’s not going to change a single thing about how he plays or what he does,” he explained on Wednesday. “So, I don’t know if it’s worth really engaging it.

“There’s a certain number of guys that it doesn’t matter. Just like, in a different way, it doesn’t matter what you say or do to Michael Bunting – you’re not going to change how he plays.

“So you can pretend that it’s going to make a difference, but it’s not going to make a difference. If I have my choice, I’d rather just keep playing. Play harder. Be more competitive when the puck drops.”

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Tavares did exactly what his coach would have liked. Apparently intent on showing he would not be bullied into obscurity, he pushed a gritty 4-on-4 shift that ended up in a puck battle win in Washington’s zone that helped produce Rasmus Sandin’s winner.

Wilson put up quite the performance himself with two goals, four hits, seven shots, and a steal, but could not prevent the Leafs from claiming the W.

After watching the way Tavares played after the altercation, Keefe wants his team to take notes.

“We talked a ton about that. We want to be a team that stands up and is right there in the moment. But most importantly, you want to be a team that just keeps playing through physicality or when the emotions get high or when the stakes get high,” the coach said.

“You just keep playing. In fact, if anything, you’ve got to dig in and play harder and look to get an advantage on your opponent in a different way. John competed incredibly hard the other night.”

Keefe also pointed to another turning point in the third period, the effort Wayne Simmonds made to draw offsetting roughing minors against Capitals defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk. Simmons was the one who opened the ice for a 4-on-4 that got the Leafs going.

“He went on that shift and was very determined to make a difference in the shift. Turns out, it creates a skirmish, the emotions rise, it’s 4-on-4, and the game changes just a little bit. Our guys go out, and we end up winning the game through that. So, I think all those things come together — and that’s really what we’re looking for,” Keefe remarked.

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“As emotions rise, as the crowd gets loud, as it gets physical, as it gets hard, keep playing. Plays through it. We’re a good team. If we can maintain that attitude, it’s going to help us.”

The Leafs, who were playing the Buffalo Sabres at the time of writing,  are 17/2 to win the Stanley Cup at the end of the season and fans can look into signup bonuses available to new bettors in Ontario. On that front, BetMGM Sportsbook Ontario, DraftKings Sportsbook Ontario, FanDuel Sportsbook Ontario, PointsBet Sportsbook Ontario, BetRivers Sportsbook Ontario are all soon to be unveiled in Canada.

Meanwhile, forward Ondrej Kase is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and did not suit up against the Sabres on Wednesday night.

Petr Mrazek, who has won in all of his last three outings and in seven of his last nine, got a second straight start as a player for the Leafs, with Jack Campbell taking time out to clear his head,

Tavarez will hope to end a 13-game goal drought. The center hasn’t gone as long without scoring since his rookie campaign in 2009/10.

Mitch Marner made his 400th appearance in the NHL on Wednesday night while Timothy Liljegren was a healthy scratch.