Ontario has given the green light for 550 fully vaccinated health-care workers to attend Monday night’s Game 7 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the visiting Montreal Canadiens in their first-round playoff series.
Premier Doug Ford’s office says the front-line workers received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine more than two weeks ago and will go through screening and other precautionary measures.
The province says the crowd will be “well below” capacity for 19,800-seat Scotiabank Arena.
Some 2,500 people were in the stands in Montreal when the two teams last clashed on Saturday. That was the first crowd for a game in Canada this year.
“I wish I could have 2,500, but the docs said 550. We’ll take that,” Ford said.
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment, the Maple Leafs’ ownership group, is covering the cost for the 550 health-care workers to attend. Ford said in a statement Scotiabank will provide jerseys for the workers.
“It’s been a long time coming,” Leafs forward Joe Thornton said. “A lot of vaccinations have been rolling out. Can’t wait for more people to start coming to this building. It’s going to be fun to play in front of, I know it’s only 500, but hopefully we’ll build off this and continue to get more people going forward.”
Leafs forward Jason Spezza was looking forward to the support.
“I think it’s just a great sign for where we’re headed as a society. I think it’s a great way to recognize the health-care workers for all the hard work they’ve done to get us to this point where they’re allowed to come in,” he said. “And then as players, obviously we enjoy playing in front of people.”
Toronto has lost six post-season series in a row since beating the Ottawa Senators in the first round of the NHL playoffs in 2004. The underdog Habs have won two consecutive overtime games to set the stage for Game 7.
The lone previous Game 7 between the Original Six rivals came in 1964 when Dave Keon had a hat trick to lead Toronto to a 3-1 win at the Montreal Forum.
Toronto has lost seven straight contests where it could have eliminated an opponent. That includes six since 2018 with the core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander.
The Canadiens finished 18 points behind the first-place Leafs in this year’s 56-game campaign. The winner of the series faces the Winnipeg Jets in the North Division final, which will start Wednesday.
The Leafs got a moral boost earlier Monday when captain John Tavares took part in an optional skate. He suffered a concussion and a knee injury in a scary collision in Game 1 and was stretchered off the ice.
“We all know how hard John works and how much he cares,” Spezza said. “By us winning this game tonight, it gives him a chance to potentially come back and play.”
Meanwhile, Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said defenceman Jake Muzzin is expected to miss three weeks with a lower-body injury suffered Saturday in Game 6.
—The Canadian Press