For the first time this season, the Boston Bruins have a COVID-19 outbreak among their ranks. Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Sean Kuraly, David Pastrnak, and Craig Smith have been placed in the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol, and the rest of the team has also been placed under quarantine in Boston until at least March 23, forcing the postponement of two games.
This is not the ideal way to kick off the second half of the season, especially with the Bruins’ playoff hopes resting on the edge of a knife. However, there is silver lining to be found in this situation. Even with all of the adversity this team has faced this season from brutal divisional play to a seemingly endless stretch of injuries, the Bruins find themselves in a unique position to regroup, refocus, and make a strong push to secure a playoff berth.
The Grass Isn’t Always Greener
Yes, the MassMutual East Division is the best in the NHL. We knew that the Bruins would face a gauntlet of a schedule as soon as the new divisions were announced. Yes, the Bruins have been incredibly unlucky with injuries on the defensive end. Tuukka Rask’s undisclosed injury and Jarred Tinordi’s probable concussion are just the latest mishaps. However, the other contenders in the East are experiencing hardships of their own.
The Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers have had far worse luck with exposure to COVID-19 than the Bruins. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov missed four games back in January, and half of the Flyers’ lineup, including Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, had to miss the 2021 Outdoor Games at Lake Tahoe.
In more recent news, the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins are both dealing with injuries to significant players. Islanders captain Anders Lee will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. (from ‘Islanders’ Anders Lee Out for the Season With a Knee Injury,’ New York Times, 03/17/2021) leads the team not just by title, but in goals as well. His value to that team cannot be overstated, and one can’t help but wonder if his absence will knock the Isles out of the playoffs.
Evgeni Malkin is considered “week-to-week” with a lower body injury as well. He and the Penguins were in the middle of a hot streak, having won six straight games before the Bruins defeated them on March 16. It would not be a surprise to see the Penguins fall into a scoring slump with him out.
Imagine, for a moment, the Bruins playing a game of hockey without Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. With that in mind, we should be extremely thankful for their health, and that the Bruins have not been forced to play these upcoming games with a depleted lineup.
Although the other teams in the East are dealing with their own difficult situations, it is still admittedly frustrating to see this outbreak occur at such a crucial point in the season. The seven remaining contests against the Buffalo Sabres could decide whether or not the Bruins make the playoffs, and spending a few days in quarantine isn’t the best start to their upcoming home stand.
But perhaps this is just what the Bruins need to regroup and prepare for a busy April schedule. With everyone in self-quarantine, they all have plenty of time and space to watch some film and gather their thoughts. This mediation hour, if you will, may be a crucial checkpoint in the Bruins’ road to the playoffs.
This is a prime opportunity for struggling players like DeBrusk and Smith to clear their heads and get back on the right track (assuming they won’t be traded). Rask, Tinordi, and others can deal with their injuries without worrying about missing more games. The older guys can also rest up for a few days, which could make a huge difference as the season approaches its end. The younger guys can take this chance to show some character and leadership in the face of adversity, and come back to the ice with a new edge to their game.
Every player on the Bruins’ depth chart can turn this negative situation into a positive outcome, if they choose. The way the Bruins come out of this quarantine will tell us a lot about this team. The next time they take the ice, keep your eye out for a few things. Expect Marchand to be more of a pest than usual. Expect the young blueliners to be more active on the boards. Expect the Bruins to play angry, with something to prove.
As things stand, Boston will face the Islanders as scheduled on March 25, with TD Garden at 12 percent capacity. All the pieces are in place for the Bruins to come out of this quarantine strong and put together a winning streak.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.