Shivering in a cold, stiff breeze that buffeted his Bruins uniform, David Pastrnak stood aside the NHL’s outdoor rink at Lake Tahoe Sunday night and explained why a man in a ski resort would wear his sunglasses at night.
Not just any sunglasses, but pink-framed skiing sunglasses. The Total Tahoe look in the Sierra Nevada environs.
“I was kind of dancing with these glasses to ‘Barbie Girl’ in the locker room,” explained the smiling Bruins right wing, “and then you [media] guys ruined it because I had to go answer the questions … so who knows what’s going [to be playing] when I go back?”
"We were listening to 'Barbie Girl' before you guys asked me to do media, so I was kind of dancing to these glasses in the locker room and then you guys ruined it and I had to go answer the questions. I missed the 'Barbie Girl' song." -- @pastrnak96 pic.twitter.com/clohb2JX2j— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 22, 2021
In a weekend that needed saving, Pastrnak saved the NHL’s ambitious Outdoor show on Sunday, scoring three times on four shots, and leading the Bruins to a breezy 7-3 win over the Flyers. Pasta fedora with a chef’s kiss.
Barbie Girl, a ’90s dance pop song, and pink-trimmed shades aren’t your grandaddy’s Original Six. And that’s the point. The NHL has embraced risk — first and foremost teasing Mother Nature — with its 30-plus outdoor games over the last 13 years.
That tease backfired on Saturday when a blazing sun turned the ice to an oversized 200-by-85-foot slush cone. But all the elements worked for the league on Sunday, certainly far better than the Flyers’ defense, and Pastrnak delivered as that singular talent capable of keeping a casual hockey viewing audience engaged.
Originally scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET, the NHL decided last week to go an hour earlier with the Bruins-Flyers game. Then came Saturday’s big melt. The sun too high and too hot, it took the Avs and Golden Knights a total 10 hours and 37 minutes to complete their game, with the start of the second period delayed until midnight ET (some nine hours after opening faceoff).
“Sunshine,” bemoaned commissioner Gary Bettman, “has always been our enemy.”
Vitamin D and vulcanized rubber. Never a comfortable mix, be it for pond hockey or NHL Outdoors.
So the 3 p.m. start that was changed to a 2 p.m. start, was changed yet again, to a 7:30 p.m. puck drop. And for reasons not explained, the 7:30 start was delayed another 30 minutes. The puck finally went down, after three time changes and a whole lot of sweating by league and NBC honchos.
And, thanks to the hockey gods, the ice was not an issue, although a little too much sun in the first half of the first period brought some unwanted glare.
“Yeah, the sun couldn’t go down fast enough,” said Bruins backliner John Moore, speaking specifically to the first period. “You couldn’t tell if it was your team or the other team.”
And the ice, noted Moore, was exceptional.
“Couldn’t have been better,” he said.
By the end of 40 minutes, the sun was long gone, the temp in Tahoe had dipped to a chilly 35 Fahrenheit, and the Flyers were looking skyward, praying that the sun would magically pop back up and at least put a pause to the drubbing. The Flyers melted faster than anything the ice crew witnessed on Saturday.
The Bruins connected four times in the middle period, beginning with Pastrnak’s 2-2 tiebreaker at 0:46.
And then the deluge.
Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic and Nick Ritchie all connected in a 99-second stretch to bump the beating up to 6-2.
Three of those six goals beat Flyers goalie Carter Hart to the short (glove) side. In the NHL’s Original Six days, pre-pink sunglasses, when all games were played indoors, three short-side goals would have delivered Hart to the minor leagues on Monday morning. No such consequences in today’s game. Hart couldn’t claim the sun was in his eyes.
The Bruins will return to standard NHL indoor programming Thursday night when they face the Islanders at Uniondale, N.Y. The fast-and-furious ’21 schedule then has them at Madison Square Garden on Friday night to face the Rangers and then a noon matinee again on Broadway on Sunday.
Unless circumstances change in New York (check the COVID hotline for updates), the Islanders and Rangers both could have a smattering of fans (likely below 2,000) in the house. The state of New York recently gave the OK to open the doors, just not too widely.
Real. Life. People. Not cardboard cutouts. Sitting in stands, munching on concessions, hootin’ and hollerin’.
Yeow! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the boards.
That’s where we are in February 2021, a time when an al fresco rink at the side of Lake Tahoe, with no fans allowed to attend, is more the norm than watching the Bruins play an indoor game with someone other than cardboard cutouts and fake crowd noise filling the building.
Thus this tweet last week by the Rangers: “We’re excited to welcome fans back to @TheGarden on Feb. 26. Yep, Friday with the Rangers.
By now, your faithful puck chronicler kidded Brad Marchand over the weekend, the Bruins No. 1 left wing likely would be happy just to hear a crowd boo him.
Just for old time’s sake.
“Always love being in a building where they boo us,” said a smiling L’il Ball o’ Hate.
Of course, like everyone, the players would prefer the doors to be flung open and the fans allowed to come marching in. Before the pandemic, the last time they played with no one watching was, well, when they were playing pond hockey as kids.
For the likes of Patrice Bergeron, who grew up playing outside in a wintry Quebec City, it has been the better part of a quarter century since no one came to see the games he played.
“This,” said Bergeron, before taking the ice in Tahoe, “it’s truly back to what we’re used to.”
Like small frozen patches back in QC, with a big flood light, and no one there but the other players.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy grew up in Ottawa, and only had to walk across the street to play on an outdoor sheet at the neighborhood school. Ottawa is a long way from Tahoe.
“Walking out after the first period,” mused Cassidy, reflecting on what he liked about the night. “The sun had settled and it was truly like an outdoor game when were kids, outside on the pond.”
Mission accomplished. Sunglasses and all.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.