PHILADELPHIA — The Bruins are scheduled to face the Sharks in San Jose, Calif., a week from Saturday , but could find themselves playing in a near-empty SAP Center after the county public health department ruled Monday not to allow crowds of 1,000 or more to gather through the end of March.
The dramatic proactive move, made by the County of Santa Clara Public Health Department, came in light of the nation’s ongoing crisis with the spread of coronavirus.
The SAP Center, with a seating capacity of 17,496, would be about 94 percent empty if the matchup were played under what is now commonly called “ghost game” conditions.
The NHL as of Tuesday afternoon offered no guidance as to how the two clubs would proceed in light of the health department’s ruling.
A Bruins spokesperson here, where the Bruins on Tuesday night beat the the high-flying Flyers, said the club would take its lead from the league.
“I think as it gets closer, and we head out West, there will be a little more of, what’s going on … are we going to play?” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Are we going to play at all? Are we going to play in front of fans? No fans? Right now, I haven’t really thought about it.”
Among the options the league must mull:
▪ Cancel the game.
▪ Postpone the game.
▪ Shift the game to Boston.
▪ Shift the game to a neutral site.
▪ Play it as a “ghost game.”
The Sharks responded Monday night, saying they would adhere to the health department’s guidelines.
San Jose stands as the final stop of a three-game West Coast swing that also has the Bruins scheduled to play in Anaheim (next Tuesday) and the following night in Los Angeles. As of Tuesday afternoon, no sub-1,000 restrictions had been implemented in those cites or at those arenas.
“As far as the San Jose game,” noted Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, “I think everyone is working on finding the right solution — as far as our PR guys also working with the league. We’ll see what’s going to happen as far as that specific game."
“It’s not really our job to decide,” said scrappy winger Chris Wagner. “We’re going to show up, and if we’re supposed to play, we’re going to be pros about it. Obviously, it’s not an ideal situation to play in front of nobody. But, like I say, we’re not paid to make those decisions. We’re just paid to show and play the game.”
Wagner and Brad Marchand addressed the media in tandem here at the Wells Fargo Center. When asked if they ever played a game in an empty building, Wagner said, “Yeah, the AHL,” a comment that drew a few laughs.
“It’ll be a different experience,” added Marchand. “But like Wags said, we’re pros, we have a job to do. We’re fighting for a top spot. We have to be prepared.”
“We always talk about feeding off the energy of the fans," said Wagner. “I think that goes both ways — at home and on the road.
"I can’t really picture it. I guess we’d have to go through it first to see what it’s like. But when the crowd gets going with ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs,' you can definitely feel it. Maybe momentum swings won’t be as big because there’s no fans, but overall you are still playing for a lot and I think we know that in the back of our minds.”
If the league opts to switch the March 21 game to TD Garden, it likely would be an early-afternoon matinee because the Hockey East men’s championship final is scheduled to begin there at 7 p.m.
The Sharks do not have a game scheduled for March 22. Following their scheduled game with the Bruins, they open a three-city road trip on Monday, March 23.
The Bruins were without defensemen Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo against the Flyers, both sidelined with upper-body injuries. John Moore, who stepped back into the lineup for Carlo Saturday in a loss to Tampa Bay, was paired with Connor Clifton, back in the rotation for the first time since exiting due to injury Dec. 29 vs. Buffalo. The next game for the Bruins is Friday night in Buffalo. Cassidy said Carlo, who was drilled in the head by an elbow Thursday night in Florida, “did not have a good day on the ice” Tuesday, and both he and Krug are unlikely to be on the trip to Buffalo. A more likely target would be Saturday vs. the Maple Leafs
… The Bruins, with a bountiful 28 points in the bank since the All-Star break, have been outpaced by only Tampa (30) and the Flyers (29). Leaguewide, they rank 1-2-3 for overall points since the break.
Rask gets the call
Tuukka Rask (25-8-6), the loser against the Lightning Saturday, was back in net for the Bruins, opposed by 21-year-old Carter Hart (24-12-3). Rask, one of eight goaltenders with 25 wins this season, leads that group in save percentage (.926) and goals-against average (2.18) … Marchand was riding a 12-game scoring streak (5-12—17) and needed two more goals to reach the 30-goal plateau for a fifth straight season. When he pops in No. 30, the Bruins will be the first team in more than 25 years to finish the season with three players with 30 goals for three straight seasons. Linemates Patrice Bergeron (30) and David Pastrnak (48) are the other two to join him in the 30-for-3 club. The Red Wings, Penguins, and Islanders all had at least three 30-goal scorers in the three seasons from 1991-94, a feat not accomplished since then … Jaro Halak is the probable starter in the Boston net Friday night in Buffalo, positioning Rask for the start against the Maple Leafs the next night. Once finished with the Leafs, the Bruins will have 10 games remaining in the regular season. It remains a possibility that the Bruins face the Maple Leafs again in Round 1, which would be the third straight season. The Panthers won again Monday night, leaving them 1 point behind Tampa Bay for the No. 3 spot in the Atlantic. If the Panthers nose in there, then it’s possible that the Leafs finish with the last wild-card spot, matching them with Boston if the Bruins maintain their No. 1 spot in the East.
Will Jack be back?
There has been growing speculation that the Bruins will call up top prospect Jack Studnicka for a look with the varsity before the regular season ends. A first-year pro, Studnicka is AHL Providence’s top scorer (23-26—49), delivering points at nearly the same rate he scored across his final three junior seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. A center, Studnicka likely would be slotted into a fourth line, possibly riding with Joakim Nordstrom and Wagner. The West Coast trip could be the ideal opportunity to get a look at Studnicka and perhaps allow Cassidy to back off ice time for veteran pivots Bergeron and David Krejci … Unable to score a goal for the first four months of the season, Charlie McAvoy entered Tuesday’s game with a 2-5—7 line over the last six games. His total production this season: 5-27—32. His next point will establish a career-high for the 22-year-old former Boston University standout. "Just playing hockey,” said McAvoy, asked if he had changed his offensive approach, “and having fun doing it.”
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault on Boston’ top line of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak: “Those three are without a doubt, if not the top line, they are close to it … with the two Edmonton guys [Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl] when those two play together. Not only do they play well five-on-five and on the power play, but one of the best killing duos in the league is Bergeron-Marchand. Great chemistry. They play with skill. They all have bite. All play with smarts." Vigneault’s Vancouver Canucks lost Game 7 to the Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. Asked if he still has nightmares over it, Vigneault said, “Umm … I hope … I hope …. deep down that I am over it. It’s been a long time, but I don’t think you can ever get over that.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.