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Buffalo, NY | Local News, Weather, Traffic, Sports | WGRZ.com

Hamilton: Hockey is back with usual Stanley Cup playoff intensity

The game looks different on TV without fans, but the NHL made it work, according to the WGRZ contributor.
Credit: AP
The Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks circle for the national anthem before their Stanley Cup playoff game in Edmonton on Saturday.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — I couldn’t be happier because after a four-and-a-half-month break, hockey is back!

Carolina and the New York Rangers got things started as these opening qualifying series are the best of five.

I want to start with how things look on TV. Of course, there are no fans, but I really like what the NHL has done. They have sleekly covered the seats, and I think it takes the focus away from having empty seats. The coverings look modern and can light up.

I’ve covered the two Winter Classics that the Sabres have played in, and it reminds me of how that is set up. There are video boards that feature the two teams playing, but you rarely see them on TV.

During the exhibition games they used a 360-degree camera at center ice, but early on in the real games, they aren’t using it much. When they do use it, I think it offers a very unique perspective that we don’t normally see.

I was wondering about many things after four-and-a-half months off. Some questions got answered immediately in Game 1. The Hurricanes and Rangers were intense! The physicality was ratcheted up, and in the first three minutes of the game we had a goal, some big hits, and a fight. Some of the hits were vicious so we saw plenty of physical play and intensity.

After that much time off you usually get a fast game, but a sloppy game and that’s exactly what we saw in the first period.

After the early goal, neither team could generate anything as both goaltenders pretty much stood idle for much of the first period.

If I use the Rangers as an example, they had trouble completing even a simple pass. The Rangers had seven chances on the power play and looked rusty and disorganized. It didn’t help that their candidate for league MVP, Artemi Panarin, was a complete no-show.

The only reason the Rangers were even remotely in this game is surprise starter in goal, Henrik Lundqvist, made 34 saves.

Carolina showed that after 4.5 months off, you can still come out and have a strong game. The Hurricanes passed the puck very well and looked good on special teams. The first period was sloppy for them, but it got better after that. 

Later, in a game seen on WGRZ, both teams came out fast, but only one team could sustain it. Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid ripped home a power play goal, which came about from good passing. After that, the Oilers looked like a team that hasn’t played in months.

Chicago’s captain Jonathan Toews took over with two goals and an assist before the first period was over. The Blackhawks looked like they’ve been playing all along, forcing turnovers, including one by McDavid, which led to a goal.

That’s the problem with the long layoff. Now Edmonton has to search to get its game back. Had it been playing all along, it would be a lot easier.  

I’ve been following former Sabre Marcus Foligno’s blog inside the Edmonton bubble. They aren’t kidding when they say these players are isolated.

On the walk from the hotel the sidewalk is totally fenced in. There are slats in the fencing so nobody can see in. The players must cross one street on the way to the arena, and they must wait for two gates to be open so they can cross on there own and really never leave the bubble.

There are restaurants in the bubble that players can go to both in the hotel and in the lounge areas at the arena. Foligno has really enjoyed the golf simulators. Players can also play basketball, cornhole and other games or be in the lounge to watch games or movies.

Foligno said the team usually eats together, but there is a time when they must be out of the restaurant so the next team can go in and eat.

The practice ice is about 25 minutes away, so players can’t miss the bus because they can’t Uber or take taxis. If they miss the bus from practice, they are now out of the bubble and must quarantine. 

Hockey continues on WGRZ Sunday as the Philadelphia Flyers tangle with the Boston Bruins. Things get underway at 3 p.m.