Forward Sidney Crosby highlighted a star-studded return to the ice on Tuesday as six teams played in exhibits in both cities of the NHL restart bubble.
It was the first action of any kind in the league to pause its regular season in March amid the coronavirus pandemic, and with the Stanley Cup qualifying series set to begin on Saturday, these scrimmages (additional teams will have theirs on Wednesday. and Thursday) represented the only opportunity for players to adjust their skills against real competition.
In Toronto and Edmonton, the tarps, some with the NHL logo on them, were placed over the lower bowl seating sections, with a painted Stanley Cup 2020 logo in the center circle of ice, and traditional advertisements affixed to the tables.
In the league’s first game since March 11, Crosby racked up 19:03 of playing time after missing practice and training sessions earlier this month in Pittsburgh for undisclosed reasons. Their penguins fell to the Philadelphia Flyers, 3-2, in overtime in Toronto.
“I felt good physically. I felt good, I felt strong, just looking ahead and making plays and that sort of thing,” Crosby said after the game. “That is going to come in time. But for the most part, I felt great. It was fun to be back.”
The penguins will face Montreal in one of the Eastern Conference playoffs, starting Saturday night.
“I thought it was a sloppy game, especially in the first two periods. I guess that’s to be expected,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. “I thought the second half of the game had improved.”
“We need to be much better. We have a long way to go before shooting with all cylinders.”
Montreal star keeper Carey Price started with the Canadiens against the Maple Leafs in the Toronto Cup. Price, who will likely start against the penguins on Saturday in Game 1, had 19 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs.
Across Canada, two Western Conference rivals, the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, met on the home track. The Oilers’ biggest star, forward Connor McDavid, opened the exhibition with a goal in the first period.
He and the Oilers will face the Chicago Blackhawks in a tie, starting Saturday, while the Flames will face the Winnipeg Jets in Game 1 later that night.