The NHL playoffs took a two-day break to protest racial injustice, the latest twist in an unprecedented, pandemic-halted season.
Now it’s back to the ice.
Three second-round playoff series resume with Game 4s on Saturday after NHL players joined athletes in sports leagues across the country in protesting the latest shooting of an unarmed Black man by police.
“You’re sitting here and you’re battling the Boston Bruins for two straight nights, and then the next morning, they’re standing united, trying to digest what’s gone on and move forward,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday. “I thought that was really impressive.”
The NHL played three games Wednesday after video surfaced of Jacob Blake being shot in the back seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The NHL then opted hit the pause button for a second time this season on Thursday and Friday, postponing four games in protest of racial injustice. That pushed everything back into the weekend.
Now the Eastern Conference series between Tampa Bay and Boston, the New York Islanders and Philadelphia will resume in the Toronto bubble. The Western Conference series between Vegas and Vancouver also fire back up in the Edmonton bubble.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS VS. NEW YORK ISLANDERS (7 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network): The Flyers would have had a lot of momentum heading into Game 3 on Thursday after beating the Islanders 4-3 in overtime Wednesday night.
After the two-day break, they’ll have to find their mojo again in the biggest swing game of the series.
“I think each game obviously presents a unique and different challenge. and we’re all professionals here,” Flyers LW James van Riemsdyk said “When the games come and arrive at the rink, we’re ready to go and put forth all our effort and attention into playing the game and having a good result.”
New York won the opener 4-0 behind Semyon Varlamov, who stopped 29 shots to become the first Islanders goalie with consecutive playoff shutouts. The Flyers chased him with three goals in the first period of Game 2, but blew the lead as the Islanders roared back.
Philadelphia evened the series when Philippe Myers scored in overtime for the 4-3 victory.
The break gave Varlamov, along with Flyers goalie Carter Hart, plenty of time to rest before Game 3.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING VS. BOSTON BRUINS (noon EDT, NBC): The layoff should give the Bruins time shake off an ugly loss in Game 3.
The Lighting buzzed after winning Game 2 in overtime, scoring two goals in a 15-second span of the first period on their way to a 7-1 win and a 2-1 series lead.
“We need to alter areas of our plan of attack so we can expose some weaknesses in Tampa because there’s not many of them,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “A day away from the rink probably helped everyone in terms of their physical conditioning because we just finished playing three (games) in four (days).”
The Lightning had plenty of momentum after winning back-to-back games, but now find themselves trying to rev it back up after two days of focusing on bigger-picture issues.
“You’re kind of in the middle of a playoff series, but there’s more that’s happened outside the game itself,” Tampa Bay defenceman Luke Schenn said.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS VS. VANCOUVER CANUCKS (9:45 p.m. EDT, NBC Sports Network): Vegas faced the difficult task of trying to bounce back from a lopsided loss with less than a day to prepare for a critical Game 3.
Instead of playing a back-to-back, the Golden Knights had two extra days to shake off a 5-2 loss on Tuesday thanks to the shutdown.
The big decision could be who starts in goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury’s agent created a stir before Game 1, posting on a social media an illustration of the goalie being stabbed in the back with a sword.
Robin Lehner shook off the distraction and posted a shutout in the opener, but allowed four goals in the Game 2 loss.
Vancouver goalie Jacob Markstrom bounced back from being pulled in the opener to stop 38 shots in Game 2.
John Marshall, The Associated Press