Saturday's Tampa Bay Lightning game postponed amid COVID surge in NHL

Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy #88 and Steven Stamkos #91 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrate the win against the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena on December 16, 2021 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Two more NHL teams have been shut down amid worsening COVID-19 tests results and a desire not to put the entire league on pause as coronavirus variants spread across North America.

All games for the Colorado Avalanche have been postponed through at least Christmas weekend, the league said. The team had been scheduled to play against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Denver on Saturday.

The Florida Panthers have also had all of their games postponed through the holiday weekend, and the hard-hit Calgary Flames had their shutdown extended through the Christmas break.

The training facilities for all three teams have been closed with the league citing "concern with the number of positive cases within the last two days as well concern for continued COVID spread in the coming days."

The latest adjustments brought the total of NHL games postponed this season to 20.

"The fact that we only shut down two additional teams means we are trying to avoid a full league shutdown," Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by email. He added that is "obviously subject to change based on circumstances."

More than 60 players are now in NHL COVID protocol, including 19 on the Flames. All but one player on active rosters across the league, Detroit's Tyler Bertuzzi, are considered fully vaccinated. It is unclear how many have received an additional COVID-19 vaccine booster.

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The NHL postponed only five games during the first two months of the season, and one has already been rescheduled and played. As recently as last week, NHL Players' Association executive director Don Fehr said the league has "been able to cope" with a few postponements so far.

That has changed rapidly. In all, Calgary has had six games postponed, the Avalanche four and the Panthers three.

The NHL hours earlier announced Saturday's game in Montreal between the Canadians and Boston was being postponed. There was no word from the league on the Bruins' game Sunday at Ottawa, which like Toronto and other cities in Ontario is capping venue capacity at 50% based on provincial health mandates.

The Canadiens beat Philadelphia on Thursday night in a mostly empty Bell Centre because of the rise of COVID-19 cases in Quebec, as required by public health officials there.

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The Bruins were without seven players because of COVID-19 protocol — including stars Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron — for Thursday night's 3-1 loss at the New York Islanders. They played a man down with 11 forwards and six defensemen. Colorado players voted to go ahead with their game Thursday at Nashville, which also had several players and coaches unavailable for virus-related reasons.

The Toronto Maple Leafs canceled their practice in Vancouver on Friday for precautionary reasons after captain John Tavares and forward Alexander Kerfoot were added to the protocol.

Postponing this many games could threaten NHL participation in the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing, which begin Feb. 4. When the league and players agreed to participate, they left open the door to withdrawing if they need the two-and-a-half-week break to complete the season.

Daly said Friday there had been no decision made yet on the Olympics but pointed out the possibility is "becoming more and more difficult." The league has until Jan. 10 to withdraw without financial penalty.