"Keep going": Stamkos sends old pal Tavares props after loss to Leafs

Apr 30 2023, 3:15 pm

John Tavares officially etched himself into Toronto Maple Leafs history on Saturday night.

In overtime of Game 6 of the team’s first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto’s captain ended a 19-year drought of the team failing to advance to the second-round playoffs with an overtime-winning goal that just barely squeaked over the line.

And while Leafs fans were going nuts worldwide over the victory, one player on the other side of the handshake line was actually one of the first to congratulate him — Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, a longtime friend and friendly competitor of Tavares.

Stamkos and Tavares, who were both born in 1990 in Milton and Oakville, Ontario, respectively, competed against one another in the Ontario Hockey League for two seasons while also crossing paths several times in their minor hockey careers, including a stint with the summer hockey club Ontario Blues.

The pair won a gold medal together with Canada at the 2008 World Juniors while also playing together at the 2010 World Championships and 2016 World Cup, the latter of which Canada was crowned champion.

Stamkos has now won two Stanley Cups in his NHL career while making it to four finals, while Tavares has advanced to the second round for just the second time in his career.

“He just said congrats and to keep going,” Tavares said of what Stamkos told him in the handshake line. “I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for him and what he’s been able to do in his career. Obviously, a first-ballot Hall of Fame career and a tremendous leader and captain, always a test and a challenge going up against him.”


“Lotta memories together, and a lot of battles over the years, not just in the NHL but as kids,” Tavares added.

Stamkos scored Tampa’s lone goal in the 2-1 victory for Toronto on Saturday.

Largely due to the hometown connection, Stamkos had been heavily rumoured to be considering the Leafs in 2016 free agency but ultimately signed back with the NHL franchise that drafted him first overall in 2008 — one year before Tavares went first overall in 2009 to the New York Islanders.

Two years later, Tavares signed one of the largest contracts in league history, inking a $77 million seven-year deal that landed him in Toronto after playing his first nine NHL seasons with the Islanders.

“Who knows? Without him making that decision, maybe this doesn’t become a possibility,” Tavares said back in 2018 when introduced signing with the Leafs.

While Stamkos didn’t publicly comment on his relationship with Tavares postgame, he did give props to Toronto for pulling off the series win.

“That’s a really good hockey team over there, they found a way to win four games, so they deserve credit,” Stamkos said postgame. “There’s no shame in the effort that we put in, but maybe the execution wasn’t there at times… it sucks when it doesn’t go your way.”

Toronto awaits the winner of the Boston Bruins — Florida Panthers series, which will be settled following a 6:30 ET puck drop on Sunday evening. One can only wonder who Stamkos will be rooting for from here on out.

Adam LaskarisAdam Laskaris

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