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Flyers beat Bruins in first NHL round-robin game
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Flyers stay hot, beat Bruins: Notes from NHL Return to Play round-robin game

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Whether you weigh their last few wins all that much or not, the Philadelphia Flyers remain on a roll. The Flyers beat the Bruins 4-1 in the first NHL Return to Play round-robin game on Sunday.

Heading into the pandemic pause, the Flyers saw a nine-game winning streak end against the Bruins. Being that the Flyers won on Sunday and also their exhibition against the Penguins, this team’s been on quite an upward trend.

Again, there’s only so much you can take from these past two W’s, but it’s better to be on the winning side than not.

Round-robin game notes for Flyers, Bruins

The goalies: Hart gets some time in, mixed bag for Halak in relief of Rask

  • Yes, this was technically Carter Hart‘s “playoff debut.” No, this game didn’t give us the best idea of how the young goalie will respond to top-level pressure. Because this felt more like somewhere between an exhibition game and a regular season contest. With that caveat in mind, Hart performed very nicely against the Bruins, making 34 out of 35 saves.
  • Again, Hart didn’t face a keyed-in Bruins squad. Or, at least the Bruins have to hope this isn’t a keyed-in effort.

https://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs/status/1290046351405973511

  • Not the greatest outing for Jaroslav Halak. Halak gave up four goals against the Flyers, including one where he didn’t take the greatest angle against Scott Laughton. Halak probably wasn’t too pleased allowing this goal against Nate Thompson, either:
  • Overall, Halak gives the Bruins a strong backup, even if Sunday didn’t go so well. Even so, Tuukka Rask finished as a 2020 Vezina Trophy finalist, so the Bruins have to hope that they can go with (a healthy) Plan A once the First Round rolls around.

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Did any Flyers, Bruins get hurt? And other lineup notes from round-robin game

  • Matt Grzelcyk took a puck to the face, but seemed OK.
  • Michael Raffl needed help off of the ice after an awkward fall late in the Flyers – Bruins round-robin game. It’s a shame for Raffl, who played well on Sunday. This might improve Joel Farabee and others chances of taking a spot away from Raffl.
  • While they didn’t make much of an impact, the Bruins must be pleased to see all of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak get some game action in.
  • Bruce Cassidy said Rask had been “feeling better” even if Halak got the nod, for whatever that’s worth.
  • Shayne Gostisbehere didn’t play for the Flyers. Will he eventually work his way back into the mix? This certainly doesn’t seem like the best sign for “Ghost.”

Eastern Conference round-robin schedule

Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET – NBCSN
Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD
Saturday, Aug. 8: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 9: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD

You can watch all the NHL playoff streams on the NBC Sports app.

Sunday’s other NHL games

Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, (joined-in-progress) 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream)

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Stars-Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

The Wraparound: Rask out for Bruins opener vs. Flyers

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2020 NHL Return to Play. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

UPDATE: While Cassidy said Rask is feeling better, Jaroslav Halak will start Sunday. Dan Vladar will serve as the backup. “He’s not going to play today. Hopefully he gets back on the ice as early as tomorrow.”

The Bruins may be without Tuukka Rask for their opening round-robin game against the Flyers on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC; livestream).

Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that the netminder felt ill and did not join the team for practice on Saturday.

“He wasn’t feeling well, so unfit to participate today,” said Cassidy. “As an afternoon question tomorrow, the natural next question is ‘will he start?’ I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later and see where he’s at. If [he cannot play] then Jaro [Halak] will be ready to go.”

A fractured finger during summer training camp forces Rask to missed a handful of practices. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have Halak to fall back on in case their No. 1 can’t go. The two netminders combined to win the 2019-20 Williams Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed since they both played at least 25 games.

Because the Bruins have three round-robin games before the First Round begins, Halak was expected to get at least one start. Both goaltenders split time during Thursday’s exhibition game against Columbus. Boston’s next game will be Wednesday against the Lightning (4 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

As far as definite absences go with the Bruins, Ondrej Kase finally arrived in the Toronto bubble and will not be ready. Same goes for Nick Ritchie, who has been “unfit to participate.”

[NBC 2020 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

NHL GAMES TODAY

Game 1: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET (USA Network; livestream): The Predators are in the playoffs for the sixth straight season – the longest active streak in the West and behind only Pittsburgh in the entire league. Arizona making the 24-team tournament is also notable as the Coyotes snapped what was the second-longest active postseason drought in the NHL. The Coyotes sat four points out of the final wild card spot when the season paused.

Round-robin: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): The defending champs will benefit from the return of forward Vladimir Tarasenko. The 28-year-old underwent left shoulder surgery in late October and was on pace to return for the playoffs even before the season was paused. He played just 10 games this season. The Avalanche were a banged up team before the pause, missing Mikko Rantanen, Andrew Burakovsky, Philipp Grubauer, Matt Calvert and Nazem Kadri. But the long break has allowed the club to heal up, and now the only forward missing is Colin Wilson, who’s been out since October.

Game 1: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, (joined-in-progress) 9 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Toronto is the only Eastern Conference team in the Qualifying Round to switch coaches mid-season as they hope the move will produce similar results to the Blues last season, winning the Cup after Craig Berube took over in November. Last summer, the Blue Jackets lost four of their top players in free agency, with Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Sergei Bobrovsky all leaving Columbus. Despite losing those players, the Blue Jackets had the exact same point total through 70 games (81 points) as last season.

Game 1: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN; livestream): Minnesota is back in the postseason after falling short last year following six straight playoff appearances from 2013-2018, while Vancouver is in the tournament for the first time since 2015. Neither of these teams have had much playoff success in recent years as the Wild have been bounced in the opening round in each of their last three postseason series. Likewise for the Canucks, who have lost three straight opening-round series since losing in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final to Boston.

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Round-robin: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Round-robin: Stars-Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET (NHL Network)
Game 2: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifier previews
Eastern Conference top seed round-robin preview
Penguins vs. Canadiens
Rangers vs. Hurricanes
Islanders vs. Panthers
Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets

Western Conference top seed round-robin preview
Jets vs. Flames
Oilers vs. Blackhawks
Predators vs. Coyotes
Wild vs. Canucks

Predictions for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Why your team won’t (and will) win the Stanley Cup this season
NHL Power Rankings: Stanley Cup-less veterans to root for
2020 NHL Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule

Bubble hockey begins: NHL playoff teams adjust to quarantine

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When the Boston Bruins boarded their flight bound for Toronto, they thought of it as just another long road trip.

Sure, they were spaced out and masked up on the plane, but they were en route to compete for the Stanley Cup that they fell one win short of earning last season. Patrice Bergeron said he was ”excited and looking forward to what’s coming next.”

It unfolded a little differently for Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith when he checked into a downtown hotel Sunday minutes from his house for a stay he hopes will last more than two months.

”Reality definitely set in,” Smith said.

NHL players from the 24 playoff teams woke up to their new reality Monday in the hub cities of Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. Quarantined bubble life began with the league reporting zero positive coronavirus test results last week, and this existence away from the public is scheduled to last until the Stanley Cup is awarded in the fall.

”We asked our group right from the start just to keep open minds because everything’s going to change, everything’s fluctuating constantly, daily, minutely,” Minnesota coach Dean Evason said.

”It’s different. You’ve got a walkway with fences. People can’t see in. You can’t see out. But if you embrace it and are willing just to go with things, it’s pretty cool.”

While Major League Baseball postponed at least two games and grappled with the Miami Marlins’ COVID-19 outbreak, the NHL reported none of the 800-plus players tested in the final week of training camps came back positive for the virus. That information and the low amount of confirmed cases in the Canadian provinces where games will take place added a layer of confidence to the first day of practices.

Like the NBA and Major League Soccer in Florida, the NHL set up a quarantined environment for players, coaches and staff that allowed those in the bubble to contrast that method of finishing the season to the less stringent way MLB and the NFL are trying to get through theirs.

”We are in a bubble. Major League Baseball is not,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Obviously once you get to the bubble, it appears to be a very safe environment.”

Feeling safe allowed teams to get down to business in preparing for exhibition games this week and the start of the playoffs this weekend. They started getting the lay of the land at hotels and practice rinks, and some got to see inside the empty arenas they’ll be playing in when hockey restarts after the pause that began March 12.

The initial reviews are positive.

”I was a little skeptical of the whole process before this all started: How was it going to work? How can they prepare this?” Montreal forward and player representative Paul Byron said. ”It didn’t seem like they had much time, much notice. … I’m actually pleasantly surprised coming to the hotel. It seems like they’ve got a pretty good setup for us.”

The setup includes free Tim Hortons coffee, a selection of restaurants and private transportation from the hotel to the rink. Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice went so far as to call it all ”pretty darn normal” while preparing for meaningful elimination in an abnormal spot on the calendar.

Midsummer hockey will feel plenty natural when the puck drops.

”The one place that it actually feels normal is when you lace your skates up,” longtime player turned Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”The one place that it feels like you forget all the outside kind of things that everybody’s dealing with, including the players, is when they’re playing.”

There are still questions about who will be playing. Columbus coach John Tortorella won’t name his starting goaltender for Game 1 against Toronto until the day before. Brind’Amour said Hurricanes defenseman Dougie Hamilton was still ”unfit” to practice, and his status is in doubt.

But Day One of hub city practices also brought some good news. Colorado’s rookie of the year finalist Cale Makar, Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos and Boston’s Rocket Richard Trophy winner David Pastrnak practiced and are on track to play.

It’s just the start, and it’ll take almost a week of daily testing to be sure the NHL can pull this off. But getting into the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles represented an important stride toward playing during a pandemic.

”Obviously happy that we can get this thing going,” Bergeron said. ”So far, so good.”

NHL Bubble Wrap: Life during Return to Play; Updates on Crosby, others

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As the NHL training camp news shifts to playoff bubble news, the surroundings change, but some of the main considerations remain the same. For instance: we’re getting updates on the likes of Sidney Crosby, Dougie Hamilton, and David Pastrnak during this edition of the NHL Bubble Wrap.

Glimpses of life in the NHL Bubble: Food and games seem pretty solid

Confession: I was kind of crossing my fingers for the NHL Bubble food memes.

After all, NBA people had a field day with this one:

To my chagrin, and to more grins for NHL players, it seems like things are pretty top notch so far:

Mmmm, breakfast.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy believes that the hub experience will be tight-knit, and feel like a “permanent road trip.”

While that brings up images of “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” it sounds like there will mainly be video games and … Settlers of Catan?

You might be able to kill all the time between Monday and the start of exhibition games merely exploring the details of NHL Bubble life.

(Do you have “The Muffin Man” in your head now, too?)

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Injury updates for Crosby, Pastrnak, and more

Moving on from the breakfast (which may occasionally include grits) to the nitty-gritty:

  • Mostly good news for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Crosby was a “full participant” in Monday’s practice. That said, coach Mike Sullivan said the team will decide if Crosby will play in the Flyers exhibition on Tuesday. Does that make it (drumroll please?) a game-time decision? (That game airs at 4 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Tuesday.)
  • Let’s keep piling on the happy stuff like ingredients into an omelette. David Pastrnak ranked as a full participant in Bruins practice. He even got up to some rascal behavior. Things aren’t as clear for fellow Bruins winger Ondrej Kase, though.
  • The Hurricanes still consider Dougie Hamilton “unfit to play.” Not great for a defenseman who put up Norris-level numbers, although reports indicate the injury at least isn’t related to his broken fibula from earlier in 2019-20. Here’s some comic relief for Hurricanes fans:

More on 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, NHL Return to Play series:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL announces zero positive COVID-19 tests during second week of training camp

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The NHL announced zero positive COVID-19 results among the 800 players tested during the second week of formal training camps. With that in mind, the NHL notes two positive COVID-19 tests over two weeks of training camp.

This optimistic NHL news comes at a time when people are wondering about the viability of various sports’ return-to-play plans. Most obviously, MLB is going through a crisis after what looks like a COVID-19 outbreak for the Miami Marlins.

As Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy notes, the NHL’s return-to-play bubble could help reduce the odds of an outbreak.

Granted, that doesn’t mean the NHL is immune to experiencing a rash of COVID-19 cases in similar ways to MLB. But it’s reasonable to believe that more travel could create more chances for players and staff to be exposed to COVID-19.

Being that NHL teams traveled to playoff hubs in Edmonton and Toronto during the weekend, expect this to be another pivotal moment as the league tries to hold the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

[2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers schedule / NHL on NBC TV schedule]

More on NHL COVID-19 testing (positive tests or otherwise) during Return to Play

Let’s circle back to some of those COVID-19 testing numbers.

Again, during the two weeks of NHL training camp, the league only became aware of two positive tests. The NHL revealed that 6,874 COVID-19 tests were administered.

Previously, the NHL announced that they were aware of 43 positive COVID-19 results during Phase 2 of the Return to Play. That process (which involved skating in small groups at team facilities) began on June 8.

So, basically, the NHL has become aware of 45 positive COVID-19 test results since June 8. Since June 8, the NHL announced about 13,000 COVID-19 tests have been administered.

For those who believe this boils down to the NHL beating its chest about its process, note that the league’s made weekly COVID-19 testing announcements.

And it’s still fair to wonder about this entire process, even if it all results in a fairly friction-less awarding of the 2020 Stanley Cup. After all, the sheer volume of COVID-19 testing could end up astonishing. In its own announcement, the NHL noted daily tests for all 24 teams, which include 52 people (players and staff) apiece. That translates to 1,248 COVID-19 tests per day, and teams won’t be eliminated from the process for a while.

Can the NHL pull this Return to Play off and award the 2020 Stanley Cup? We’ll see.

Should the NHL go through with this? That’s a debate that could go on for a long time. And there’s no guarantee that other COVID-19 testing results will seem as positive for the NHL as the latest one.

(But, yes, this inspires at least temporary optimism that the NHL bubble might have a shot.)

More on NHL return to play, CBA extension, COVID-19:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.