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Short shifts key for Tavares in battle with Bergeron

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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practiced at MasterCard Centre on Tuesday while the Boston Bruins skated at Coca-Cola Coliseum.

Where has John Tavares improved defensively this season?

"Just his commitment to doing it," said Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock. "His sort outs in his own zone, his sort outs off faceoffs, being on the right side of the puck.”

Tavares, who potted 47 goals in the regular season, has been going head-to-head with four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron for most of this first-round series against the Bruins and is coming out on top so far.

"You can't take a second off," Tavares said of the challenge going against the Bruins star.

Tavares is making every second count. He's averaging 19:10 of ice time per game in the playoffs, which is up only five seconds from the regular season. However, he’s getting two more shifts per game (26.3) than in the regular season when he averaged 24.

"His ice time is almost the same, it's just his shifts are 10 seconds less," Babcock pointed out. "It's always interesting to me each night, we're talking about ice time, but what I do is I just look at their shifts and how many shifts they had and did they go long ... Our game, the way it is, if you play too long, you're building up lactic acid and you can't perform at the highest level. In order to play defence, you've got to be fresh. He's done a real good job of that.”

Tavares, who finished with a career-high plus-19 rating, credits Babcock and Toronto’s coaches for helping him take some steps defensively this season. And linemates Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman have also played a role.

"How good we are, I think, at just reading off one another and understanding each other's game and how to be responsible, but also to be productive........