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John Tavares collapsing after a flying knee to the head is one of the most sickening hockey highlights ever

Nothing takes the air out of an arena like a serious injury. It doesn’t matter how big the game—in this case a hugely anticipated first-round matchup between the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who many believe to be on the cusp of a curse-breaking cup run. When someone goes down and it looks bad, all of that immediately goes out the window.

What happened to John Tavares on Thursday night looked bad. Really, really bad.

That was midway through the first period of Game 1 of the Habs and Leafs’ first-round series. You can’t draw up a worse start than that. Not for the teams, not for the fans, and, most importantly, not for Tavares. Checked in the neutral zone, the Leafs forward lost balance and, as he fell to the ice, caught a completely accidental flying knee to the face from an on-rushing Corey Perry. The odds? Infinitesimal. The result? Absolutely horrifying, as Tavares ragdolled across the ice, limp and unconscious.

Yet somehow the worst was yet to come, with trainers desperately signaling for a stretcher as Tavares, face gushing blood, slipped in and out of consciousness, slumping backwards like one of those used-car-lot inflatable-arm-waving men in the wind. The whole scene was reminiscent of Chris Pronger having his heart stopped by a slap shot on live TV, a highlight that still puts a lump in the throat of hockey fans some 23 years later.

Thankfully for Tavares, the diagnosis was merely “concussion.” That’s not to downplay concussions. Careers have been ended by less, and in the year 2021, we all know how serious the knock-on effects can be. But for a few moments it looked so, so much worse. So for now we’ll leave the hockey out of it. It’s just good to know that Tavares is (relatively speaking) OK and that we can put this sickening clip behind us. We’ve seen it now. Hopefully we never ever have to see it again.