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Lightning’s series with Stars, Blue Jackets already jeopardized by COVID-19

The Lightning were scheduled to face Dallas on Jan. 17 and 19, and play in Columbus the series after that.
Will the Lightning and Brayden Point get a rematch with the Dallas Stars this month? That remains to be seen for now.
Will the Lightning and Brayden Point get a rematch with the Dallas Stars this month? That remains to be seen for now. [ Marko Ditkun ]
Published Jan. 8, 2021|Updated Jan. 8, 2021

BRANDON — Only days into training camp, the NHL is finding out just how difficult it is to operate through a pandemic outside of a bubble.

The NHL said Friday that six Stars players and two staff members tested positive for the coronavirus and it called off Dallas’ first three games of the season, one of which was Jan. 17 against the Lightning at Amalie Arena.

The NHL said it was “reviewing and revising” the Stars’ schedule and the season opener for the defending Western Conference champions was not likely to be earlier than Jan. 19, currently a game against the Lightning in a Stanley Cup final rematch at Amalie Arena.

The Stars’ first two games had been scheduled to be Thursday and next Friday against the Panthers in Sunrise.

Dallas canceled practice Friday and its facility will remain closed for several days while further daily testing and contact tracing is conducted, the league said. Those who tested positive were self-isolating and following protocols of the league and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the league said.

Also Friday, 19 Blue Jackets players didn’t practice “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols,” the team said. The website the Athletic reported that 13 projected starters were missing, nine forwards and four defensemen.

The Lightning are scheduled to play in Columbus on Jan. 21 and 23. Columbus is scheduled to opens its season Thursday at the Predators.

In the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles in the last postseason, the league did 33,174 coronavirus tests and none came back positive.

The league decided against a bubble setup for this season but realigned its divisions and changed its usual scheduling practices to reduce travel. Teams will play games only in their division.

The Lightning had all 41 players still in camp on the ice Friday for a pair of morning practices.

The Dallas and Columbus situations show “how cautious we have to be around the public and trying to stay away as much possible,” center Anthony Cirelli said.

Cirelli said he and his teammates have paid attention to what other professional sports leagues have endured with positive cases and how schedules can be impacted.

“The most important thing is safety and trying to get through this season,” Cirelli said. “Obviously there are going to be some (coronavirus) cases, but I think we just have to be safe and be as cautious as we can.”

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Coach Jon Cooper said the team can control only what it can and can’t worry about what other teams are doing.

The Stars’ season getting delayed emphasizes the need for teams to adapt quickly. Cooper said it’s no different to him than a player who gets injured in the first period of a game.

“You don’t expect it to happen, but it might happen,” Cooper said, “and you have to adjust.”

Cooper said that at least the Lightning got several days’ notice about the Stars. He said a tougher situation would be finding out that kind of news on a game day.

“We just have to be diligent in what we’re doing,” Cooper said. “I just don’t want it to happen to us. It’s unfortunate this is going off, but this is definitely an expect-the-unexpected year.”

Information from Times news services was used in this report. Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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