The Bruins don’t know the precise number of fans allowed to attend games at TD Garden during the second round of the playoffs and beyond, but they are happy to be solving that problem.
“It’s going to be extremely exciting,” team president Cam Neely said on a Zoom call Tuesday. “Obviously, going from no fans to, I think 12 percent, was a big difference for the players. And then going to 25 percent was a really big difference, especially in playoff hockey. And to get to near capacity I think is going to be amazing, not only for the fans that are dying to come watch some live hockey, but also the players.
“Just that energy in the building makes a huge difference. I can’t even imagine what it’s been like to play without fans.”
An NHL official indicated to the Globe that seats behind the benches and penalty boxes, cleared out for ventilation purposes, will remain off-limits, as will a small number of seats taken out of service elsewhere because of COVID-19 safety measures. The NHL mandates at least 25 feet of space between the open-air benches and fans, with a plexiglass or acrylic barrier between.
The Bruins said attendance for Games 3 and 4 of the first round, at 25 percent capacity, was 4,565 each.
Neely, whose Bruinsfinished a five-game ouster of the Capitals on Sunday, said he had “no indication yet” of the second-round start date. Game 6 of the Islanders-Penguins series is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday. Game 7, if necessary, would be Friday.
The Islanders, who lead that series, 3-2, would visit TD Garden for Games 1 and 2. The Penguins, who finished first in the East, would host the Bruins in the first two games. Asked if any potential roadblocks exist, Neely said he didn’t think TD Garden would be unavailable to the Bruins on any particular upcoming date. It’s worth noting the Celtics are scheduled to host Game 3 of their first-round series against the Nets at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Game 4 of that series is 7 p.m. Sunday.
If the Islanders close it out Wednesday, Game 1 could be Saturday in Boston. If it winds up being Monday, the Bruins would have a full seven days between games. Not including the COVID pauses of last year, it would be their longest in-season break since a 10-day layoff between the 2019 Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.
“I think our group has enough experience to understand the time off, how to use it to the best of their abilities as far as getting rest and recovery,” Neely said. “I think it’s very important. Especially if you hope to have a long run, I think these days off are going to be very beneficial moving forward.”
In Washington, Zdeno Chara didn’t immediately commit to returning for a 24th NHL season.
Chara, 44 and without a contract for next season, said he would take a few days to reflect and talk it over with his family. He spent the season in D.C., while wife Tatiana, 12-year-old daughter Elliz, and 5-year-old twin sons Ben and Zack stayed in Boston.
“Definitely that was one of those things that I found the most challenging, being away from my family,” said Chara, whose one-year deal ($795,000) became $1.525 million with performance bonuses. “At the same time, the accommodation and the environment I was in made it much easier and better than I expected. So, looking forward to seeing my family, my kids again every day, but definitely that will be a factor going into the decision I’ll be making in the future.”
Asked for his view of the series-ending handshake line with his old mates on Sunday, Chara expressed his disappointment over the loss.
“But you pay the share of respect to your opponent,” he said, “and so obviously, congratulated all the Boston Bruins and the coaches [for] moving on.”
Neely sees the Penguins-Islanders series as “kind of what was advertised, I guess. They both have their own style of play. We knew whatever four teams were going to get into the playoffs in our division, it was going to be tough hockey and close games for the most part.” … Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry was the goat of Game 5. He allowed the winning goal 51 seconds into the second overtime after sending an outlet up the middle, right to the tape of Islanders winger Josh Bailey, despite having a teammate on either wall ready for a pass. Bailey took the gift, walked in, and lifted the Islanders to a 3-2 series lead. Asked what he would have done differently, Jarry deadpanned, “Stop it.” The questioner clarified they were asking about the pass. “I’m not sure,” Jarry said. “Maybe just leave it.”