Black Lives Matter remains focus as NHL returns from player-driven postponement

Andrei Vasilevskiy made 29 saves against the Bruins as the Lightning took Game 4 and a 3-1 series lead.

TORONTO — Black Lives Matter.

Those words were expressly blared through the Scotiabank Arena sound system before the resumption of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday afternoon, part of a pre-game video played during a three-minute Moment of Solidarity.

“In hockey we often let our effort, determination and passion to win do the talking,” commentator Kevin Weekes said in the video, which was similar to one played Aug. 1 at the outset of the playoffs. “But when an issue is bigger than the game we must speak out, starting with three words we need to get comfortable saying: Black. Lives. Matter.

“Equality is the only way forward. As players, as fans and as active citizens we must confront these issues.”

The NHL’s player-driven postponement of four games this week followed similar actions taken by athletes in the NBA, WNBA, MLS, MLB and professional tennis.

It happened after a group of players chose to put aside their individual pursuits of the Stanley Cup to take a collective stand. That decision was reached inside the NHL-created bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton during a series of face-to-face conversations, plus conference calls with founding members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance.

It brought members of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins together for a meeting on Thursday morning, less than 12 hours after playing each other. Those teams were immediately back at it Saturday, as Tampa took a 3-1 lead in the second-round series with a 3-1 victory in Game 4.

“It was a delicate balance,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But we didn’t want to put the game ahead of what’s gone on, until this morning. That was our message to the guys is just make sure we come to this rink, it’s hockey, and I thought our guys did a really good job focusing.”

“A little bit of difference going into today’s game after the last 48 hours,” Tampa defenceman Victor Hedman added. “The conversations we’ve had within our team and within the whole bubble, interacting with other teams, that’s been anything but hockey. But today was a different day.”

There was no evidence of the competitive edge being dulled during a game that featured a couple spirited scrums and a five-minute boarding penalty to Boston’s Nick Ritchie for a late hit on Yanni Gourde. Ritchie then fought Barclay Goodrow in the third period.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t agree with the major assessed to Ritchie following a video review by the referees: “Gourde was down on the play. He’s a good player, a real good player for them, clever obviously, got them on the power play for five minutes. He finished the game, had no problems in the third period.”

Ondrej Palat scored twice while Hedman added a power-play goal as Tampa moved one win away from reaching the Eastern Conference Final. Jake DeBrusk replied with a goal for the Bruins.

During the 48 hours without games, there was very little talk about hockey around the NHL. The walls of the Toronto bubble were even decorated with messages like “Black Lives Matter,” although those drawings were only visible to the players and staff on the inside.

“There are bigger things than hockey,” DeBrusk said. “That’s probably one of the things that’s been focused on the most here.”

On Saturday morning, Lightning defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk took advantage of the relaxed dress code to arrive for the game in a black “HDA” hoodie. He was among the players shown on the pre-game video discussing the impact of this week’s stand against systemic racism, along with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins.

“We all need to learn a lot about what’s happening outside of our own lives,” Marchand told reporters Friday. “A lot of us, we don’t truly understand what it’s like in other peoples’ shoes, and we need to. It’s the only way things are going to change.”

The NHL ran a quote on the video board saying: “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“As we resume play today the NHL and our players unite in the fight to end racism,” the in-arena host said, “we stand together for a common cause that needs action today, tomorrow and well after our Stanley Cup Playoffs end.”

Now that the players and league have started looking more intently at this issue, they can’t avert their gaze.

Even with the chase for the Cup back on.

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