PREVIEW: Back from COVID-19 pause, Boston Bruins welcome New York Islanders

Mar 16, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Boston Bruins had coach Bruce Cassidy (rear) talks to center Patrice Bergeron (37) and right wing David Pastrnak (88) during a time-out in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena. Boston won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Nobody needs to remind the Boston Bruins of the fragile and tentative nature of trying to return to action in front of fans at home.

The Bruins will hope to come back from their coronavirus pause on Thursday night, when they are scheduled to host the New York Islanders in what could be the first game played in front of paying fans in Massachusetts since the pandemic started last March.

The Bruins last played March 18, when they beat the host Buffalo Sabres 4-1. The visiting Islanders have been off since Monday, when they edged the Philadelphia Flyers 2-1 in overtime.

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The Bruins had their next two games — including a Tuesday home game against the Islanders — postponed due to COVID-19 protocols. Five players — Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Sean Kuraly, David Pastrnak and Craig Smith — remain on the NHL’s COVID-19 list, although each player remains symptom-free.

“We’ll adjust and make the necessary lineup changes we have to,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday.

While the time off was unplanned and unwanted, it has provided some other injured Bruins players a chance to heal a bit. Brandon Carlo (upper body), Trent Frederic (lower body), Jeremy Lauzon (hand) and Zach Senyshyn (upper body) have resumed skating over the last week while goalie Tuukka Rask, who suffered an undisclosed injury against the New Jersey Devils on March 7, could return to practice Wednesday.

The postponement Tuesday provided the Islanders their first multi-day break since Feb. 23-24. New York played three games from Feb. 25-28 before playing at least every other day since March 2 (including three back-to-backs).

The Islanders have thrived during the hectic stretch — they won nine straight from Feb. 28 through March 14 and are 13-2-1 since Feb. 22 to move into first place in the East Division — but looked as if they could have used a break on Monday, when New York was outshot 37-20.

Rookie Oliver Wahlstrom secured at least a point for the Islanders by scoring 4:06 into the third period before Anthony Beauvillier collected the game-winner with 1:19 left in overtime. The win was the eighth straight for New York rookie goalie Ilya Sorokin, who stopped the final 18 shots he faced.

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“(The Flyers) were a committed group tonight, and when you run into that, you need someone to rise, and tonight Ilya did that for us,” Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said afterward. “He made some real key saves at key moments, and we were able to grind our way back into an even game and fortunately we finally beat them in overtime.”

Islanders defenseman Noah Dobson has been on the COVID-19 list since March 14, and he’s missed five games over that span.

If Thursday’s game is played, it will be the first time the Bruins play in front of fans at home since March 7, 2020, when they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-3. The TD Garden can be filled to a maximum of 12 percent, or roughly 2,100 fans.

–Field Level Media