A handful of the 31 squads across the National Hockey League — including the Boston Bruins — haven’t developed a COVID-19 outbreak so far. Yet, the clubs that unfortunately encountered the virus have made a significant impact across the hockey landscape.
Let’s face it, unlike the Toronto bubble; the league wouldn’t go completely unscathed this time around, even with protocols intact. Even the best-case scenarios would’ve projected a few postponements in this unprecedented 2020-21 season.
But now, we’re inching toward worst-case scenarios. And so far, the re-aligned East Division has been the hardest hit by the pandemic.
The Bruins already had three games rescheduled following positive cases in Buffalo and New Jersey. They were supposed to face the Sabres this past Saturday and Monday at TD Garden. Those games will now take place on March 27 (at 1 p.m.) and April 13 (7 p.m.)
It didn’t end there. The league announced Monday additional postponements for the Devils, Sabres and Wild because of COVID protocol, thus rescheduled a Boston-New Jersey matchup — again at TD Garden — from Feb. 15 to a later date.
Less than 24 hours elapsed until the Philadelphia Flyers had their game with the Washington Capitals postponed from Tuesday night. The Bruins returned home from Philadelphia on Friday following another come-from-behind victory to improve to 8-1-2 on the year.
Add to that an earlier outbreak with the Caps, and you have yourselves all the makings of a widespread conundrum within the re-aligned East Division.
The Bruins haven’t overstressed about their postponements. They’ve conducted themselves well through this environment, but they know certain aspects remain out of their hands.
“There are going to be some challenges — we knew that coming in. So you just have to make sure you follow protocols and do everything you can to be safe and have the people around you to be safe, and just keep enforcing those and follow the rules,” forward Charlie Coyle said during his Zoom call with the media on Tuesday.
“Sometimes it’s out of your control. It’s a crazy, crazy thing going on — it’s been going on for almost a year now. But we just have to follow [protocol] and do the best we can with it. There are going to be things that come up, and we just have to work through them. Our team, the league, everyone is going to do their part in making sure we limit it as much as possible.”
Right now, the Bruins have a meeting with the Rangers scheduled for Wednesday night. Whether they encounter widespread virus after a positive test by Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim is anyone’s guess.
The Bruins and Flyers have their next game scheduled for a week from Sunday in Lake Tahoe. The NHL will likely wait until the last minute to decide on conducting the second-ever outdoor meeting between the two historic franchises.
Just getting the games in remains a tall task in and of itself. Yet, that’s all Bruce Cassidy wants at this rate, no matter if they’re playing at or away from TD Garden or in an outdoor setting like Lake Tahoe.
“In our division, it’s a little more concerning now that it’s hit a few more teams,” Cassidy said. “I think we’ve done a good job here, but it’s inevitable if you’re playing against infected players it appears that the risk goes up. It seems like our division right now, it’s running through it. Hopefully we can avoid it, stay safe and in the meantime get as many games in as possible.”
The warmer months may provide some relief. But the NHL has to ask itself if it’s worth conducting business as usual during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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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