The Islanders returned to work Wednesday, but everyone's attention was over in Sochi, Russia -- for all the wrong reasons.
John Tavares suffered a knee injury in Canada's 2-1 quarterfinal win over Latvia on Wednesday, ending his Olympics and possibly his NHL season. He will be examined in Russia and have a MRI exam, but a source indicated that the initial exam on Tavares' left knee "does not look good."
[UPDATE, 2/20/14, 8:08 a.m.: John Tavares will miss rest of NHL season]
Tavares tried to sneak by a check from Latvia's Arturs Kulda in the second period, but the hit appeared to pin Tavares' left leg awkwardly against the boards. Tavares tried to stay on the bench but went off to dressing room and was quickly ruled out for the remainder of the game.
Soon after Canada's close victory that sent them into tomorrow's semifinal game with the U.S., Canada coach Mike Babcock confirmed what a source had told Newsday earlier on Wednesday: Tavares' first Olympic tournament was over.
The Islanders will allow Tavares to stay in Sochi for the remainder of Canada's tournament to allow him to participate in a medal ceremony and the team is holding its collective breath on the results of today's exam.
"You feel for him as a friend, as a teammate and, quite honestly, as a Canadian," Islanders defenseman Travis Hamonic said. "Johnny is one of the best players our country has and he was relied upon a lot for that team. He's given a lot of himself for Canada in a lot of tournaments. It's just terrible."
It will also likely be terrible for the Islanders. In his first season as captain, Tavares hasn't enjoyed the team success that the Islanders had in the shortened 2012-13 season, but his individual play has flourished. He entered the Olympic break with 24 goals and 42 assists in 59 games, third in the NHL in points. He had no points in four Olympic games to go with a plus-3 rating.
Michael Grabner and Thomas Vanek, the Islanders' two other Olympians, were due to depart Sochi on one of the NHL charter flights Thursday.
The Islanders resume their season on Feb. 27 against the Leafs. Tavares' injury is the latest bit of bad news for the team that currently sits in last in the Metropolitan Division, 12 points out of a playoff spot with 22 games remaining.
Just within the last month Vanek, whom the Islanders acquired from the Sabres on Oct. 27, turned down a seven-year, $50-million contract offer from the team, leading to the certainty that Vanek will be traded by the March 5 trade deadline. Frans Nielsen suffered a broken left hand in the final game before the Olympic break and is likely to miss a few games once the season resumes.
But Tavares is the unquestioned star and leader of the Islanders. If the news is bad, the last six weeks of the season will feel an awful lot longer.
Notes & quotes:Nielsen and Matt Martin (lower body) did not practice with the 17 regulars, but both skated on their own after practice. Grabner and Vanek are due back by tomorrow's practice.