Jake Gardiner's head coach and teammates had his back after he was booed in a defeat on home ice Monday night.
The Toronto Maple Leafs blue-liner heard boos nearly every time he touched the puck in the third period of a 6-3 loss to the Avalanche, after forward Carl Soderberg overpowered him, stole the puck, and scored a shorthanded goal to give Colorado the lead late in the second frame.
"That hasn't happened before, that's for sure," Gardiner told reporters postgame. "Not something you want to hear, but plays happen in the game, fans are passionate and they want to win."
Leafs bench boss Mike Babcock came to the rearguard's defense, adding that Toronto fans are entitled to express themselves.
"He's a really, really good player, a really important piece," Babcock said. "He didn't play good. The good thing about our fans is they're passionate, they want us to win, they want us to play way harder than that. We want to play harder than that for them. I think we've done a good job over time here to be a real good team to watch. We weren't good enough to watch. They paid their money, they're allowed to say what they want. The bottom line is he's an important player for us, we need him to be good."
Mitch Marner insisted Gardiner doesn't get enough recognition for his contributions.
"The guy does everything for this team," the forward said, according to TSN's Mark Masters. "People don't give him enough credit ever ... (it was) pretty disappointing to hear that. That guy means a lot to this team not just on the ice, but off the ice as well."
Fellow Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly emphasized how important Gardiner has been to the club for nearly a decade.
"Jake's a great player, he's been a great player for this team for eight years now, maybe more," Rielly said. "He comes to work every day like a pro, works hard. His teammates love him, he's the most popular guy in this room, he works hard. Guys make mistakes out there all night. That's the way the game is, it's played on ice so things happen that can be unpredictable. Just happens that ends up in the back of the net, if not it's probably a nothing play. He's a pro, he'll come to work tomorrow ready to go and we'll move on. Like I said, we've got a road trip to worry about."
Gardiner was held pointless with a five-on-five Corsi For rating of 22.22 and an even plus-minus rating Monday night.