The Boston Bruins will get nearly a week of down time prior to dropping the puck for Game 1 of the second round against the New York Islanders on Saturday night at TD Garden. The B’s dispatched the Washington Capitals last weekend in five games, took two full days off the ice and then snuck in a couple practice days prior to ramping up for this weekend’s opener against the Islanders.
It’s a good bit of rest following a physical series against a big, heavy Capitals crew, and prior to another heavy playoff match against an Islanders hockey club where the Black and Gold will need to fight for every inch of their ice against a hard-working, well-coached team.
The six days off between playoff series is a long respite in terms of a normal hockey routine during the regular season, but it’s nothing close to the 11 days off between the conference final sweep of Carolina and the 2019 Stanley Cup Final that the B’s experienced just a couple of years ago. With a veteran team full of players that played through that experience just a few years ago, Bruce Cassidy feels confident the Boston Bruins will respond well to a bit of a lengthy layoff.
“Rest is important. I think we’re a mature enough group, especially if you feel like you’re in it for the long haul, which we do,” said the Boston Bruins bench boss. “You want to close out any series as quickly as you can. It takes away the stress and any possibility of losing, obviously. Guys get to rest up a little bit.”
The added bonus, of course, is that the time off gets the Bruins a little closer to full health. Jeremy Lauzon has returned to practice after being out since Game 1 with a suspected right hand injury, and the extra time gives Kevan Miller (upper body) a better chance of returning at some point during the second round series. Given that the Bruins had very little practice time down the stretch while playing a ridiculous 17 games in the month of April, the hockey club was happy to be able to exhale after a sprint to the regular season finish line playing 23 games in 40 days.
“It’s such a challenging year from the compression overall of the schedule. I honestly believe the time we have right now will be advantageous to us, to have a little bit of a reset,” said Boston Bruins GM Don Sweeney. “I think if we can get in [to practice] and stay healthy, we’ll be ready to go for the next round because it’s going to be a hell of a challenge.”
“We’re fortunate that we’re moving on to the next round and be able to take advantage of what looks like as much full capacity as we can within the protocols and what the league will mandate. We need it. The players have gone through tremendous challenges over the course of a year and a half and missing the excitement, having the energy of an incredible fanbase. Hopefully now we can get more fans in our building to fully support them the way that we know all Bruins fans will do.”
As Sweeney reference, the Boston Bruins also used the six days off to schedule second vaccine shots for a large group of their players and anticipate being at the 85 percent fully vaccinated threshold within the next couple of weeks. It means great freedom from the NHL’s COVID Protocols for the players and it also means that the TD Garden will be opening to “close to full capacity” this weekend for the start of the second round series.
And that has everybody excited from Bruins players, to fans and to employees at TD Garden that have been waiting all season for light at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel.
“Maybe this can show everybody that life is returning to somewhat normal. It’s been, as we all have experienced, it’s been a very strange 14 or 15 months here,” said Boston Bruins President Cam Neely. “It does bring so much more energy and excitement when there are fans in the building, especially at playoff time.”
The Boston Bruins still have one optional practice on Friday ahead of this weekend’s season opener, but they are rested, fine-tuned after a couple of good days of practice on the ice and totally jacked up at the thought of legitimate playoff crowds waiting for them at both TD Garden and Nassau Coliseum in the upcoming series.