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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
TORONTO — It really is remarkable that the NHL was able to get to this point.
During a worldwide pandemic, the NHL was able to come up with a four-phase Return to Play Plan that has worked almost to perfection as hockey began in the bubble cities of Toronto and Edmonton without a single positive COVID-19 test to report. Kudos to commissioner Gary Bettman for putting the plan together and also to the players for leaving their families behind during scary times to live the masked bubble life.
The No. 1 reason the NHL is doing this is money — pro sports is a business more than anything else. But these NHL playoffs have given people something to take their minds off the pandemic, if only for a few hours, and put some joy and fun back into life — unless you’re a Maple Leafs fan watching the Canadiens and Flyers play in your home rink.
“In this global time right now, for me, Philly fans are excited to have an opportunity to maybe think about something else, what’s happening in the world,” Philadelphia head coach Alain Vigneault said during a conference call Wednesday afternoon, hours before the Flyers and Canadiens met in Game 1 of their series at Scotiabank Arena. “Me being a Quebecer and being francophone, I think for the Quebec people right now, having an opportunity now to think about something else other than the virus, wear your mask, social distancing.
“To be able to have sports for a few hours in the day take your mind away from everything else is great. I said at some point in April, if you remember, that I felt that sports was going to be a way to get away a little bit from what’s happening. The Philly fans today and the Quebec fans, the Montreal Canadiens fans, are going to get their first opportunity.”
The Canadiens weren’t expected to still be playing, but they gave their fans something to cheer about from Balconville with their qualifying-round victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Flyers won all three games they played during the round-robin portion of the tournament, while outscoring their opponents 11-3. As the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern Conference, they will be heavy favourites against the Canadiens.
“At this time, it’s not about being the No. 1 seed, having a bulls-eye on our back, or whatever,” Vigneault said. “It’s the Montreal Canadiens and what we’re going to have to do to win tonight’s game. It’s one game at a time, it’s about staying in the moment, it’s about preparing yourself and your team the right way and we’ve had a couple of meetings with our players. Our players are obviously a little nervous, but I think more excited than nervous. We know we’re playing against a real good opponent and we’re ready for the opportunity, for the challenge.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, in watching the Pittsburgh series, that’s a team with real good team speed and there’s no doubt that they work extremely hard,” Vigneault added about the Canadiens. “So those two areas, watching the four games in that Pittsburgh series, caught everybody’s attention.”
There has been seemingly endless hockey on TV since these playoffs began and Tampa Bay and the Columbus Blue Jackets gave fans an extra dose Tuesday when they played five overtime periods before the Lightning’s Brayden Point finally scored for a 3-2 victory in Game 1 of their series. The game took almost six-and-a-half hours to play with Columbus defenceman Seth Jones logging a record 65:06 of ice time and Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo making a record 85 saves.
It’s a game hockey fans will be talking about for years. So will the players and coaches living in the NHL’s bubble.
“Everybody here yesterday was glued to the TV and it was exciting, it was demanding. … I much prefer that than seeing it won in a shootout,” Vigneault said. “I’ve got to tell you, the people around here yesterday, everybody was real excited.”
It really is nice to have hockey back.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020