From the Fortress to the Garden, NHL starting to welcome back fans

After a year that felt more like a millennium, several NHL teams are saying goodbye to empty arenas as they prepare to open their doors back up to fans.

The return brings about feelings of nostalgia. Players will once again get to feed off the energy of a crowd, heed reminders to “shoot the puck” and see their names on the back of jerseys that fill the stands.

“At this time, we have to respect the protocols, we have to respect the safety of the fans and players and everyone working at these facilities is the most important thing,” Capitals defenseman Zdeno Chara said. “Yeah, it would be great to have fans at the arenas and cheering us on and experience these energy swings during games.”

Here’s where each NHL team currently stands when it comes to welcoming back their respective fan bases.

East Division

Buffalo Sabres: New York state allowed the reopening of large stadiums and arenas on Feb. 23 with protocols. Buffalo will open Keybank Center to fans for select home games starting on March 20.

Boston Bruins: Beantown will see a limited amount of fans return to TD Garden when the Bruins are able to play again. Their originally scheduled game on March 23 against the Islanders, which was to be the first a 12% capacity, has been postponed.

New York Islanders: The Isles welcomed back 1,000 Northwell Health frontline workers on March 11 and officially brought season ticket holders back to Nassau Coliseum on March 18.

New York Rangers: The Blueshirts were the first N.Y. team to host a crowd this season. On Feb. 26, Madison Square Garden saw about 2,000 fans return for the first time since the season came to a pause in March 2020.

New Jersey Devils: N.J. governor Phil Murray gave the go-ahead for venues with a seating capacity of 5,000 or more to operate at 10% capacity in March. The Devils brought back fans with strict protocols in place, and within 48 hours of tickets, they sold out their first eight home games at Prudential Center. New Jersey hosted an audience for the first time in nearly a year on March 2 in a 2-1 loss to the Isles.

[MORE: Your 2020-21 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Pittsburgh Penguins: PPG Paints Arena opened its doors to fans to kick off the month of March, with the team requiring all spectators to wear masks at all times unless eating or drinking. However, Pittsburgh faces controversy after the team admitted to photoshopping masks onto fans in a social media photo to hide COVID-19 violations. Seventeen people were also ejected for not wearing masks inside.

Philadelphia Flyers: Gritty’s followers now have a place at Wells Fargo Center, as the venue started hosting fans on March 7 at 15% capacity (about 3,100 people) with COVID-19 protocols in place.

Washington Capitals: Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the group that owns the Caps, submitted a request to the city of D.C. to safely allow fans back into Capital One Arena, per the Washington Post’s Samantha Pell. There’s no return date set in stone, but the team is a step closer.

West Division

Arizona Coyotes: The Yotes were the first NHL team to welcome back fans for a home game in 2021. Local authorities allowed Arizona to open Gila River Arena to 3,450 fans (about 25% capacity) for the team’s season opener in the desert on Jan. 14.

Vegas Golden Knights: As part of Nevada’s 75-day reopening plan, the Vegas Golden Knights are welcoming faithful back to The Fortress and operating at 15% capacity (around 2,600 people). The Knights’ first home game with fans was on March 1, marking the first time in 363 days that T-Mobile Arena hosted fans. Vegas treated them to a show, rewarding their patience with a 5-4 overtime victory over the Minnesota Wild.

Minnesota Wild: Right now, only players’ families and select staff are allowed to attend games. However, the team announced that in early March, Minnesota will allow 40 “true fans” to sit in the Bud Light Top Shelf Lounge on the club level. Where it stands, only 250 people are currently allowed in the arena.

Colorado Avalanche: Ball Arena has received approval from the Colorado Department of Health and Environment to begin hosting 4,050 fans (22% capacity) beginning April 2.

St. Louis Blues: Starting on Feb. 2, the team announced that Enterprise Center will open its doors to a limited amount of fans, along with frontline workers, families and friends of players, staff, employees and essential personnel. In total, St. Louis has increased attendance to 1,400.

Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks: There’s no update yet on whether or not California’s teams will get to fill their stands anytime soon.

Central Division

Carolina Hurricanes: Fans can now take warning with the team indoors. PNC Arena is operating at 15% capacity and opened back up on March 4 for Carolina’s game vs. Detroit.

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago hasn’t made any decisions surrounding United Center at this time. However, per the Parkins and Spiegel Show, it was reported that the Hawks and Chicago Bulls could welcome fans back at 10-15% capacity in April, pending approval from the city.

[NHL Power Rankings: Hurricanes, Isles climb with winning streaks]

Columbus Blue Jackets: Fire the cannon: fans are back at Nationwide Arena. Columbus first announced its plan to operate at 10% capacity on Feb. 11 after receiving approval from the State of Ohio. On March 2, a year and a day since the team last hosted spectators– 18,378 to be exact – the Jackets welcomed back 1,953 spectators.

Dallas Stars: A COVID-19 outbreak for the team at the start of the 2020-21 campaign hasn’t impacted their plan to welcome back Stars faithful. American Airlines Center currently allows 4,200 fans and has taken several steps to stop the spread of COVID-19, including selling tickets as part of socially-distanced pod seating groups.

Detroit Red Wings: Hockeytown’s residents are coming back slowly and surely. The home opener saw 250 fans allowed in the arena (mainly team personnel family and friends) before that number was expanded to 500 on Jan. 30. Michigan’s eased restrictions allowed Little Caesar’s to open doors to an additional 250 people in March.

Florida Panthers: Sunrise decided that the team would host fans at 25% capacity before the puck even dropped on the 2020-21 campaign. Nearly 5,000 people can fill the stands at BB&T Center, which has several safety measures in place and “became the first NHL hockey arena to achieve the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI) WELL Health-Safety Rating.” It’s a good thing for the Cats, who are off to one of their best starts in years.

Nashville Predators: The Metro Public Health Department gave the Preds the green light for 15% capacity at the start of the year, but Nashville elected to wait. Then, on Jan. 26, Smashville welcomed back fans with open arms and put on quite the show, snapping a three-game skid with a 3-2 overtime victory over Chicago.

Tampa Bay Lightning: The defending Stanley Cup champions brought back a crowd on March 13 after Vinik Sports Group, the Bolts’ parent company, announced it will allow up to 3,800 spectators into Amalie Arena. Tampa made it a night to remember, as the Bolts finally raised their 2020 Stanley Cup Championship banner to the rafters, sharing that moment with their fans.

North Division

It appears the nation of Canada is playing things safe, with no spectators allowed for any Canadian teams so far. It may be for the best, with the Canucks currently in the throes of a major COVID-19 outbreak following relatively little to no interference from the pandemic to start the season for the North.

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    Pezzetta scores shootout winner; Canadiens beat Sabres 4-3

    canadiens sabres
    Timothy T. Ludwig/USA TODAY Sports

    BUFFALO, N.Y. ⁠— Brendan Gallagher and the Montreal Canadiens rallied back to avoid playoff elimination with less than three weeks left in their season. The Buffalo Sabres, meanwhile, are running out of chances to stay in the Eastern Conference wild-card hunt.

    Gallagher forced overtime by scoring his 200th career goal, and Michael Pezzetta scored the decisive shootout goal in a 4-3 win over the Sabres on Monday night.

    “It’s one of those things I think we earned that chance. We weren’t fantastic but we did enough on the road tonight to get a win,” Gallagher said. “Smiles all around.”

    The Canadiens could laugh, especially after Pezzetta celebrated his goal by putting his stick between his legs and riding it like a wooden horse — much like former NHL tough guy Dave “Tiger” Williams did during his 14-year NHL career spanning the 1970s and 80s.

    “I’m not sure we’ll see that again. One of a kind,” said Gallagher. “I’d be worried about falling over.”

    Pezzetta scored by driving in from the right circle to beat Eric Comrie inside the far post. Buffalo’s Jack Quinn scored in the fourth shootout round, but was matched by Montreal’s Jesse Ylonen, whose shot from in tight managed to trickle in through Comrie.

    Jordan Harris and Alex Belzile also scored for Montreal, and Jake Allen stopped 30 shots through overtime, while allowing one goal on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal would have been eliminated from playoff contention for a second straight season – and two years removed from reaching the Stanley Cup Final – with any type of loss.

    The Sabres squandered a 3-2 third-period lead to drop to 3-6-3 in their past 12. Buffalo also blew a chance to move to within four points of idle Pittsburgh, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot.

    “Just a little hesitation,” forward JJ Peterka said of the Sabres third-period lapse. “We didn’t play with much energy and we didn’t play that aggressive as we played the two periods before. I think that was the difference.”

    Buffalo’s Lukas Rousek scored a goal and added an assist while filling in for leading scorer Tage Thompson, who did not play due to an upper body injury. Peterka and defenseman Riley Stillman also scored, and Comrie stopped 38 shots through overtime, and allowed two goals on six shootout attempts.

    Montreal blew two one-goal leads to fall behind 3-2 on Stillman’s goal at the 8:31 mark of the second period.

    Gallagher scored on the fly by using Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin as a screen to snap in a shot inside the far left post. With the goal, Gallagher tied Bobby Rousseau for 24th on the Canadiens career scoring list.

    “I liked the way we corrected ourselves, it’s a sign of maturity, in the way we stayed on task,” Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis said, in recalling how the Canadiens recently unraveled in an 8-4 loss two weeks ago to Colorado, which plays a similar up-tempo style as Buffalo.


    The Sabres hosted their third Pride Night, with Russian D Ilya Lyubushkin electing not to participate in warmups by citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Moscow, where he has family and visits in the offseason. The remainder of the team wore dark blue jerseys with the Sabres logo on the front encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

    During the first intermission, the Sabres broadcast a video in which GM Kevyn Adams said: “This is about recognizing someone’s humanity and true identity. We know there are people out there struggling with who they are, and we want them to know that they have an ally in the Buffalo Sabres.”


    Canadiens: At the Philadelphia Flyers on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: Host the New York Rangers on Friday night.

    Flyers chairman Scott to retire; Hilferty becomes successor

    Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

    PHILADELPHIA — Dave Scott will retire as chairman of the Philadelphia Flyers’ parent company Comcast Spectacor and be replaced by Dan Hilferty.

    Hilferty, who was recently named CEO of Comcast Spectacor, will succeed Scott as chairman of the company on April 17 and as the team’s governor on July 1.

    Scott joined Comcast Spectacor in December 2013 and the Flyers have struggled under his reign. They will miss the playoffs for a third straight season and haven’t won a Stanley Cup since 1975.

    “Our number one goal for the Flyers will be to consistently compete for the Stanley Cup,” Hilferty said. “It is going to be a process that will take time to get on that path, but I’m confident we are headed in the right direction with Danny Briere as interim GM, Coach Tortorella, and our hiring of a President of Hockey Operations soon. Our leadership team will be fully focused to deliver on this for our fans while also continuing to make the sports complex the best location for sports and entertainment in the nation.”

    As Chairman and CEO of Comcast Spectacor, Hilferty will lead the company’s entire portfolio, including the Philadelphia Flyers. Spectacor Sports and Entertainment CEO Valerie Camillo will continue to work directly with Hilferty, overseeing the Wells Fargo Center, including its continued transformation, and lead the Flyers’ business operations.

    Pastrnak scores twice, Bruins top Hurricanes 4-3 in shootout

    bruins hurricanes
    James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports

    RALEIGH, N.C. — David Pastrnak’s milestone performance with the Boston Bruins came with additional responsibility.

    Minus a couple of key players, Pastrnak moved to the forefront and eclipsed the 50-goal mark by scoring twice and the Bruins won their seventh game in a row by defeating the Carolina Hurricanes 4-3 in a shootout Sunday.

    Forwards Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand didn’t make the trip with the NHL-leading Bruins, so Pastrnak boosted his contributions.

    “I’ve been learning from those guys,” Pastrnak said. “You recognize when they’re not here that you have to take a step forward.”

    Pastrnak posted the 12th 50-goal season in Bruins history.

    “With Bergeron and Marchand back at home, you can see his leadership skills really come out,” Bruins coach Jim Montgomery said. “I think he put the team on his back and played the right way.”

    Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk scored in the shootout in a matchup of Eastern Conference division leaders.

    Jakub Lauko also scored for the Bruins, who earned their 57th victory and are five wins shy of matching the all-time NHL record with nine regular-season games to play. Charlie McAvoy had two assists and Jeremy Swayman made 34 saves.

    “We’ve had a lot of character wins in a lot of different fashions,” Montgomery said.

    Boston tied the franchise record for wins in a season. That’s special in Montgomery’s opinion.

    “Especially when you think about all the great Bruins teams,” he said.

    Jack Drury, Brady Skjei and Sebastian Aho scored for the Hurricanes, who won three of their previous four games. Brett Pesce had two assists and Frederik Andersen stopped 35 shots.

    Carolina wiped out a two-goal deficit to secure a team point.

    “It wasn’t our best game, but I thought the third period we certainly came on,” Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said. “It’s one of those games where you say it’s probably a good point to get considering how it was looking.”

    Pastrnak’s 50th goal of the season came 4:43 into the game. He received a pass from McAvoy and skated half the length of the ice on a breakaway, though lost full control of the puck and still beat Andersen.

    Pastrnak was on track for 50 goals in March 2020, but he ended up with 48 when the COVID-19 pandemic caused an early end to the regular season.

    “You never know what can happen,” Pastrnak said.

    Drury, set up in the slot, scored his second goal of the season off a pass from Jalen Chatfield at 7:44 of the second.

    Just 1:28 later, Pastrnak’s second goal came on a power play when he blasted a shot from the left side just inside the post. Lauko’s fourth goal extended the lead at 11:46 of the second.

    Carolina pulled even at 3-3 when Skjei and Aho scored in the first four minutes of the third period.

    “We knew that was coming,” Montgomery said. “There’s no need to panic. We knew they were going to come with a push.”


    Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm was scratched along with Bergeron and Marchand with what Montgomery referred to as nagging injuries. The trio has accounted for 57 goals this season.

    “It shows the depth that we have,” Swayman said. “I think all of us thrive on the energy in a building like this.”

    Carolina’s only significant lineup adjustment came with center Paul Stastny in the lineup in place of Jesse Puljuharvi, who had played in eight straight games since making his debut with the Hurricanes. Puljuharvi arrived in a trade from Edmonton in late February.

    NOTES: The Bruins won two of three meetings with the Hurricanes, securing the first victory in overtime. Carolina eliminated Boston in last spring’s playoffs in seven games. … The Hurricanes maintained their string of securing a point in all seven games across different seasons while wearing green Hartford Whalers-inspired jerseys. The franchise began as the Whalers before relocation in 1997.


    Bruins: Host Nashville on Tuesday.

    Hurricanes: Host Tampa Bay on Tuesday.

    Malkin’s late goal lifts Penguins past Ovechkin, Capitals 4-3

    penguins capitals
    Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

    PITTSBURGH — Evgeni Malkin remains a live wire. Even now, 17 seasons into a career that is likely destined for the Hall of Fame, there’s an unpredictability the Pittsburgh Penguins star plays with that can be both endearing and exasperating to teammates and coaches alike.

    The latest proof came against Washington on Saturday.

    An untimely roughing penalty in the third period helped spark a Capitals’ rally from a three-goal deficit. Malkin made up for it by burying a breakaway with 1:20 left in regulation that lifted the Penguins to a 4-3 victory.

    “His care factor and his compete level for me is off the charts and that’s what I love about him and usually when the stakes are high that’s when he’s at his best,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He gets a huge goal for us tonight at a key time.”

    Malkin’s 25th goal of the season – a low wrist shot to the far post – helped the Penguins avoid a potentially messy collapse. Pittsburgh appeared to be ready to cruise to victory after Jake Guentzel‘s power-play goal 27 seconds into the third period made it 3-0.

    Washington instead stormed back, with Alex Ovechkin right in the middle of it. Ovechkin scored his 42nd goal of the season and 822nd of his career from his favorite spot in the left circle with 6:42 to go in regulation. Washington drew even when Dylan Strome flipped the puck into an open net with 2:44 to go in regulation.

    Yet instead of sagging, the Penguins surged. Malkin stripped Washington’s Anthony Mantha near center ice and broke in alone on Kuemper. Seconds later, the puck was in the net and Malkin was on one knee celebrating while pumping his fists, the kind of display of raw emotion that’s become one of his trademarks.

    “It’s a huge goal for me, and two points for the team,” Malkin said.

    Pittsburgh moved three points clear of Florida after the Panthers lost to the earlier Saturday. Both teams have nine regular-season games left.

    Ryan Poehling and Chad Ruhwedel scored a little over two minutes apart in the second period for Pittsburgh. Jake Guentzel added his team-high 32nd goal early in the third before Washington scrambled back. Casey DeSmith played spectacularly at times while finishing with 31 saves.

    Tom Wilson started the Capitals’ comeback with his ninth goal of the season 5:19 into the third. Kuemper stopped 36 shots, but was outplayed by DeSmith as Washington’s hopes of making a late push for a playoff berth took a serious hit. The Capitals are six points behind Pittsburgh with only eight games remaining.

    “It’s a tough one,” Washington center T.J. Oshie said. “I don’t think that last play was the only thing that lost the game for us. I know that (Mantha) feels terrible about it, but we trust him with the puck. It just wasn’t a good enough 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there.”

    It felt like old times for much of the night for teams that usually enter late March battling for a spot near the top of the Metropolitan Division.

    Not this season.

    While the 35-year-old Crosby is averaging over a point a game as usual and the 37-year-old Ovechkin is steadily making inroads on Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal record, their teams have spent most of the year skating in place.

    Pittsburgh has been wildly uneven thanks in part to goaltending that has fluctuated between solid and shaky, the main reason a 17th straight playoff appearance is hardly assured. Washington, meanwhile, appears to be pointing toward the future after injuries and a small sell-off at the trade deadline.

    Pittsburgh put itself on slightly firmer footing with DeSmith making a compelling case that he should supplant Tristan Jarry as Pittsburgh’s top goaltender down the stretch.

    DeSmith was spectacular at times, including stoning Ovechkin on a breakaway near the end of the second period in which Ovechkin deked DeSmith to his knees, only to see DeSmith extend his left leg just enough to knock the puck out of harm’s way.

    “I’m not very tall,” the 6-foot DeSmith said. “But I had that one inch that I needed.”


    Capitals: Host the New York Islanders on Wednesday.

    Penguins: Visit Detroit on Tuesday.