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Canucks to return against Maple Leafs on Sunday

Vancouver has not played since March 24 due to COVID-19 outbreak

by David Satriano / Staff Writer

The Vancouver Canucks are scheduled to play the Toronto Maple Leafs on Sunday in their first game since March 24 following a COVID-19 outbreak within the team that had 22 players test positive for the coronavirus.

They will also play the Maple Leafs at home on Tuesday. That game was originally scheduled for Monday.

The Canucks were scheduled to return from their pause at home against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday and host the Maple Leafs on Saturday, but their return to action was delayed by the NHL on Thursday.

The Canucks have had nine games postponed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. All of those games have been rescheduled, with the schedule for the Scotia North Division being extended to May 19.

The NHL regular season was originally scheduled to end May 8 and had been extended to May 11 and then May 16.

The Canucks practiced for the second straight day Friday. They practiced Thursday for the first time since their season was paused March 31. On Monday, 10 players skated in their first activity since the pause.

After practice Thursday, the NHL announced the pause in their return to play.

"The decision to extend the period prior to the team's resumption of play was made to provide club staff and players with additional time for recovery and preparation following its recent COVID outbreak," the NHL said in a statement. "The NHL made the decision with input from the League's, NHLPA's and club's medical groups.

General manager Jim Benning said the safety of players and their families was the top concern. 

"Our medical and hockey operations staff have collaborated daily with NHL, NHLPA and local health officials on the health and well-being of the team and our players' readiness to play," Benning said in a statement. "I would like to thank our players, our upcoming opponents, and everyone involved at the NHL and NHLPA for their input, guidance and understanding through this process. Above all else, the health and safety of players, staff and families remains the priority."

Vancouver forward J.T. Miller on Wednesday expressed concern that the Canucks were being made to play too soon, after one practice, after many of their players had been ill.

Vancouver had two players on the NHL COVID-19 protocol list Friday (Nate Schmidt, Jake Virtanen), down from three on Thursday, seven on Wednesday, 16 on Tuesday and a high of 19 last week.

"I think it's kind of crazy," Miller said. "I know that everybody's got a job to do, but to expect pretty much our entire team to be ready to play [with] one practice and a pregame skate is a little bit hard to comprehend."

The Canucks are now scheduled to play 19 games in 32 days to finish the 56-game regular season.

"I'd never thought I'd be in this scenario in my career," Miller said. "It's going to be a start of a really long stretch, short but hard stretch at the end of the year here. A reaction? I don't know. It's not ideal, obviously, for anybody, but we have a job to do, I guess."

Vancouver (16-18-3) is sixth in the seven-team North Division, 10 points behind the fourth-place Montreal Canadiens. The top four teams will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL announced Friday that the Colorado Avalanche had their next three games postponed because of COVID-19.

There have been 53 games postponed because of COVID-19 protocol since the NHL season began Jan. 13.

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