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John Tavares' second return to Coliseum takes back seat to Isles' quest for first

John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs

John Tavares #91 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates off the ice as the Islanders celebrate their victory at NYCB Live's Nassau Coliseum on Feb. 28, 2019, in Uniondale, New York. Credit: Jim McIsaac

John Tavares will be back for the sequel Monday night against the Islanders, making his second return to the Coliseum with the Maple Leafs. The fans certainly let the Isles’ former captain know how they felt about him during his initial return, unleashing a torrent of boos and chants.

The words “we don’t need you” echoed throughout the building back on that emotional night of Feb. 28. The Isles didn’t need him in that game, trouncing Toronto, 6-1. So what will it be like this second time around?

“New York sports fans don’t forget,” defenseman Scott Mayfield said after practice Sunday. “They might be like that every time we see [him]. I don’t know if it’ll be as loud, as many boos and stuff.

“It was probably a little bit harder of a ticket to get the first time, maybe. But this is also the last [home] game of the [regular] season, so that might offset it. People that couldn’t make it the first time might be there. You never know. But we’re not really focused on that. He’s a good player. He’s having a great season . . . They’ve got a good team. All we’re worried about is climbing the standings.”

Indeed, this game for the second-place Islanders is less about Tavares II than it is about Metropolitan I. After clinching a playoff spot Saturday, they’re still trying to chase down Washington for first in the division. The Capitals own a three-point lead (102-99) with three games left, including a D.C. finale between the teams Saturday night.

“We want to put ourselves in a position where we go into Washington the last game of the season to have a chance to take over that top spot in the division,” Casey Cizikas said.

The Islanders have a two-point lead over the third-place Penguins and still haven’t clinched home ice for at least the first round. They aren’t settling for a playoff berth, though. They want first place.

“It’s extremely important,” Anders Lee said. “I think everyone knows the importance of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Winning the division says a lot about your season, where you’re at as a team.”

Toronto (97 points) is in third in the Atlantic Division, and Tavares hasn’t disappointed Leafs fans. In his first season since leaving the Islanders for a seven-year, $77 million deal, he has 45 goals, a career high, and 41 assists. But he had no points in his first return to the Coliseum.

“I’m sure that our fans are still passionate, so they’ll be there for Toronto,” Barry Trotz said. “The first time is always a little different. There’s a big media push on that event . . . I hope there’s no push this time.”

New York Sports