The Boston Bruins are set to return to the ice for the first time since Dec. 16 amid the NHL’s COVID-related holiday pause as they host the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon.
Boston’s last six games were postponed amid a league-wide COVID outbreak. The Bruins were originally scheduled to return to action last Monday versus Pittsburgh before the league again pushed back the resumption of play.
“I think our guys are ready to go,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “We’ve had a good week of practice so far. (We practiced) again (Friday), tidy up a few things. (The) energy level is good.”
Boston might be at full strength for Saturday’s game as Charlie Coyle could clear the COVID protocol. Coyle entered the protocol Dec. 26, but could return in time thanks to the league’s adjusted COVID policy allowing players to return after only five days.
The Bruins added a major addition to their roster during the break as the team reportedly re-signed longtime goalie Tuukka Rask. The 34-year-old former Vezina Trophy-winning netminder had been recovering from offseason hip surgery. He has been practicing with the team and will join AHL affiliate Providence for a stint in January, Cassidy said.
Rask would re-join a goalie room that includes veteran Linus Ullmark and rookie Jeremy Swayman, neither of whom have established themselves as a true No. 1. Swayman served as Rask’s backup for most of last season.
Ullmark will get the start in net on Saturday against his former team, while Swayman is in line to start Sunday at Detroit. Ullmark faced Buffalo once earlier in the season, stopping 35 of 36 shots in a 4-1 road win on Oct. 22.
Buffalo is seeking its first win since returning to play after the league’s COVID break. The Sabres fell 4-3 versus New Jersey in their first game back on Wednesday and fell 4-1 at the New York Islanders on Thursday.
Kyle Okposo scored the lone goal for Buffalo on a power play with exactly a minute left Thursday’s opening period to tie the game at 1-1. Sabres goalie Malcolm Subban (28 saves) gave up three unanswered goals over the final two periods.
Overall, the Sabres have dropped three straight dating back to Dec. 17 — a 3-2 overtime loss at Pittsburgh in the team’s last game before the four-game layoff. Buffalo’s last win came in a 3-2 shootout at Minnesota on Dec. 16.
Despite the three-goal loss on Thursday, Buffalo’s brass liked what they saw from the team’s makeshift group.
“It’s certainly part of our team evolving,” said assistant Matt Ellis, who is filling in during head coach Don Granato’s COVID absence. “There’s no way to sugarcoat it. These are great lessons for us to learn. In this league there’s not time to sit and hope for things.”
Buffalo had six players in COVID protocol prior to this week’s doubleheader. On Friday, Jeff Skinner and Vinnie Hinostroza both returned to Sabres’ practice following their stints in the COVID protocol.
Subban was drafted by the Bruins with the No. 24 overall pick in the 2012 entry draft. The 28-year-old is 1-1-0 with a .915 save percentage and a 2.50 goals-against average in two career starts versus Boston.
Second-year Sabres goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen is 1-2-0 with a .898 save percentage and a 4.15 goals-against average lifetime against the Bruins.
–Field Level Media