This was a big game, and it felt like a big game, despite the obvious and concerning circumstances. If there were no coronavirus outbreak occupying so many minds around the country, if Tuesday’s Flyers-Bruins game were just what, on paper, it was – a matchup between two contenders in the NHL’s Eastern Conference – seeing the Wells Fargo Center jam-packed would have been expected, a formality.
But in the context of the warnings and the public-health worries and the cancellations of other sports events around the country – the Ivy League’s men’s and women’s basketball championships among them – seeing a large, lively, and fully engaged crowd Tuesday felt like something different. It felt like an act of defiance from several thousand people who wanted to watch their favorite team in a big game and didn’t want to be told what to do. Who didn’t want to be told to stay home.
Were they wrong to do that? Did they put themselves and others at risk? Maybe they did. I can’t pretend to know. I’m a sportswriter, not an expert in infectious diseases, and though I feel comfortable lecturing people about the importance of Carter Hart to the Flyers, I definitely don’t feel the same measure of comfort when it comes to lecturing people on the proper reaction to this outbreak. The Flyers closed the locker room and sent coach Alain Vigneault and his players to a lectern to speak to the media, at a presumably safe distance. Me, I was at the Wells Fargo Center all day, from 10:30 a.m. on, and if I washed my hands once, I washed them two dozen times. I washed them before I entered the media dining room, handed over my money to pay for dinner, then left the room to wash them again, just to be sure. Me, I’m not sure I’d have gone to the game, even if I had a ticket.
But that’s me. That might not be you. And I admire the willingness of the fans who did show up Tuesday night to say, You know what? I’m not going to let fear govern my life. I’m gonna live. Good for them.
Three times over the first two periods, Hart made a save on the Bruins’ David Pastrnak, each on a one-timer from the left circle. Pastrnak entered Tuesday tied with Alex Ovechkin for the NHL lead in goals, with 48. Yet Hart used his right arm, then his left arm, then his pads to keep Pastrnak from jumping ahead of Ovechkin. Then, for good measure, Hart gloved a Pastrnak wrist shot from the right circle midway through the third period. It was a neat little game within the game.
Tuesday was Bruins’ goalie Tuukka Rask’s 33rd birthday. His teammates should have thrown him a hell of a party. He earned it with the way he played.