For nearly a year, the Boston Bruins acclimated themselves to the daily grind caused by the COVID-19 pandemic off the ice. On the frozen sheet, they adjusted to playing in front of empty crowds beginning in August inside the Toronto playoff bubble.
Several months elapsed before the Bruins returned to meaningful hockey last week for their opening three-game road trip with a pair of contests in Newark and Monday’s tilt in Long Island. On Wednesday, for the first time since facing the Lightning in their last home game on March 7, they returned to an empty TD Garden in preparations for Thursday’s home opener against the Flyers.
Yes, they have experience playing in front of sponsor-laden tarpped seats. Yet, things will still feel different for a work-in-progress Black and Gold bunch.
“The aura of playing in the Boston Garden feels special every time coming back here. Obviously, we’ll miss having the cheering from the fans here in Boston,” Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk said. “But, we just have to find a way to get to our game as quick as we can. We’re quite used to [empty crowds] now, going through the experience in the bubble and playing a few games [this season].
The Red Sox and Patriots both faced the first circumstance of empty seat ballgames. With a banner display behind the backboards, the Celtics began their 2020-21 season at home with a thrilling win against reigning MVP Giannis Antenokunmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bruce Cassidy’s bunch will embark on an empty Causeway Street barn in roughly 24 hours’ time. But even he didn’t hesitate asking a fellow coaching peer about the eerie surroundings without the hometown crowd.
“I actually talked to Brad Stevens about the fans part,” Cassidy said regarding his discussions with the eighth-year Celtics coach. “He said it was different, and it took a little while to get used to it.”
The players may encounter another adjustment period come Thursday. But they felt energized once they left the locker room to practice on the Garden ice on Wednesday. After all, they need some sort of boost after failing to score an even-strength goal through the first three games of 2021.
Heck, even the commute felt different, at least for Cassidy.
“As for the drive in,” Cassidy said, “mostly uneventful, and very little traffic.”
The Bruins won’t have to worry too much about the daily road congestion for home games this season. But they need to find a way to generate traffic in front of the net and light the lamp more consistently, especially at 5v5.
That task won’t get any easier with Carter Hart and a stingy Philadelphia squad coming to town for the next two contests.
“Hopefully, we come out guns a blazing right away and get to our game early,” Grzelcyk said.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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