BOSTON - The year was 1919.
Eighteen games into a scheduled 20-game NHL season, the Toronto Arenas suspended operations, leaving the Montreal Canadiens and the Ottawa Senators left to play in an NHL Championship. On Mar. 6, the Habs defeated the Ottawa Senators and advanced to play the winner of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association in the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals. Thirteen days passed before the Montreal Canadiens and the Seattle Metropolitans finally began the series.
With the series tied after five games (including one tie), the 1919 Stanley Cup Finals was canceled because of the Spanish Flu epidemic.
Exactly 100 NHL seasons later, the Boston Bruins will have 11 days between the Conference and Stanley Cup Finals. That lengthy layoff ties the 2003 Anaheim Ducks for the second longest mark in NHL history - behind only the 1919 Canadiens.
While the Canadiens and Metropolitans never finished their series, it is a safe bet that the Bruins and their eventual opponent will avoid the perils of the influenza virus en route to deciding the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion. After the first and second rounds of the playoffs, the Bruins had breaks of one and two days, respectively. Now with a lengthier gap between games, the challenge for the modern-day Black & Gold squad will be to maintain their edge from the Conference Finals.
When the Bruins brain trust of coaches and management looked into ways to keep the team sharp, a possible solution was for the team to play a intrasquad game to replicate the pace of a real game. On Thursday night at TD Garden, the B's will do exactly that.
"We had some ideas we bandied around and came up with this one," said head coach Bruce Cassidy. "It'll be live to a certain extent. Obviously talked to the players about the physicality part. We're looking for compete and we're looking for pace. We're not looking for guys to blow each other up, so we start getting back into it. We've had good practices, but this will be a little bit different. Look at some different scenarios in game. It will be controlled in terms of power play. Could be a six-on-five at the end of the game no matter what the score is. Four-on-four play, we'll try to come up with some different things that keep the players sharp. That's the thinking behind it."
Video: Cassidy talks upcoming scrimmage
Divvy It Up
The Bruins will be divided into Team White and Team Black, and play two 25-minute periods of controlled scrimmage.
"Trying to simulate a game situation," said Cassidy. "Going to the rink, preparing for a game day. I don't know at the end of the day how everything is going to play out until Game 1 happens…Try to simulate a little bit a checking line versus a top line. We'll still sort through the final kind of - there will be three lines for each team because we are going to use the Providence guys.
"Who gets rested in this? Does Tuukka [Rask] need to play the whole thing? Those will be players decisions themselves. Zee [Zdeno Chara], we'll see where he's at. He missed [Game 4 against Carolina]. He looks fine I believe. I don't think we have to put the reigns on anybody but it's still three days away so we may have to be careful.
"We may want to matchup power plays so we may have to take - DeBrusk is playing with Krejci against Bergy's line, might have to pull him over for one of the power plays because we want to keep that continuity. There will be a little bit of that going on. But at the end of the day, we're trying to recreate some game situations and have them come to the rink. Who knows, Thursday to Monday not a huge difference and start getting back into that mode."
Game Day Gamut
Cassidy noted that the team will be trying to mimic the game day experience as a whole. The Game will take place at 7 p.m. and the team will have its usual pregame routine.
"They're coming in in the morning, we're going to do some video," Cassidy noted. "Obviously if St. Louis wins [Tuesday], we can start a little bit of that prep for special teams. If not, we'll just go through basics, what we want.
"They'll come in in the morning, we usually have an optional skate anyway so that'll be optional going out [to Warrior]. We'll come in [to Warrior] and then we'll go to the Garden…The game will probably end up being maybe two periods of 25 minutes. Enough to simulate an hour of practice or 45 minutes of practice we do. It's obviously going to be longer because of situational stuff."
With the scrimmage comes the risk of injury. Cassidy and his players are very aware of their need to be careful throughout the contest.
"I think that is one of the inherent risks of this," said Cassidy. "We just talked about that. This isn't a physicality contest out there. It's compete on pucks. It's play with some pace - respectful of each other. No different than practice. We have competitive drills in practice where we ask the guys to establish body position. We're not running each other. That'll be the challenge. I think we have a smart enough group. That'll be the message like I said that has to be relayed to some of the younger guys. Hey, we're doing this for a reason but the reason is not to injure one another."
Eyes On The Aces
The intrasquad scrimmage will also give Cassidy and his staff a chance to look at the Black Aces, some of whom he has not seen since the preseason.
"This is a chance again," said Cassidy on seeing some of the 11 players from Providence. "Right now, Kuhlman and Wagner are extras. Wagner didn't play obviously with an injury, so you've got Kuhlman who is a right shot and has played predominantly right wing. Well, what if a center goes down? Do we look at - It's a chance to look at Frederic again. Jack's here, Studnicka. I haven't seen him since China. It will be a tough environment for him to come into but listen, it could be a one game where you need the best out of a player if he's the best fit.
"It's an opportunity to see some guys you haven't seen for a while as well. Left side is [Paul] Carey, [Anton] Blidh. If a left winger skill guy gets hurt, Paul Carey did a good job for us in Winnipeg I believe. He played very well for us with Coyle and I forget who his right wing was, maybe Heinen. That's again another look at those guys."
Chara was not at Warrior Ice Arena on Tuesday. Cassidy said that bodes well for his health.
"I have not seen him which is good," Cassidy. "It means he's not in here for the wrong reasons. I think he's going to be fine. Tomorrow morning at practice we'll see but I think we're good there."
One thing Cassidy has noticed about the captain is his exceptional focus this time of year.
"He's very focused when talking to him about this whole week leading up about the preparation, the tickets, the families, how to balance your time," said Cassidy. "He seems like a pretty focused guy to me anyway but I'm going to guess it's ramped up. It's simply because of where you are in your career. It's tough to get back here. They haven't been back since '13. I'm sure those guys that were here look at that as an opportunity lost. They don't want to go through that again.
"That's what I sense from them, which is good because we have some younger guys that haven't been through it. You don't want them to think that - I'd love their confidence if they think they're going to be here every year, but it just doesn't work that way. I hope that that message gets across to them as well."
Tickets are on sale to the general public (bbru.in/2QemDAA). Tickets cost $20 and parking in the North Station Garage costs $10. Tickets are available online only, are not for resale, and are first come first served with a limit of four tickets per account.
Members of the Boston Garden Society will receive ticket purchase information based on the product and package they own later today. Tickets for Season Ticket Holders and Game Plan Holders cost $10 and parking in the North Station Garage costs $10.