BOSTON (CBS) — In the NHL’s bubble, three words have been the worst thing anybody could possibly hear: Unfit to participate.
It’s a term that could mean anything with regard to a player’s status in the era of safety and caution regarding COVID-19.
For the Bruins, the words “unfit to participate” reared their ugly heads on Thursday night, shortly before puck dropped for Game 2 against the Hurricanes, and it regarded their leading goal scorer, David Pastrnak.
The team announced that Pastrnak would not be playing in Game 2, with no explanation other than him being “unfit to participate.”
UPDATE: David Pastrnak (unfit to participate) will not play in tonight's game. #NHLBruins
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) August 13, 2020
Pastrnak, 24, missed two weeks of the Bruins’ training sessions in July for the same mysterious reason, as he was forced into extra quarantine at the time. He did travel with the Bruins to Toronto and has been “fit to participate” since. He scored the Bruins’ first goal of Wednesday’s Game 1 vs. Carolina, and he picked up an assist on the game-winning goal in double overtime.
Pastrnak scored an NHL-leading 48 goals in 70 regular-season games played this year.
The dreaded “unfit to participate” tag also hit the Hurricanes, too, as the Joel Edmunson also missed Game 2 for the same reason. Edmundson scored Carolina’s first goal in Game 1, just like Pastrnak did for Boston.
The Hurricanes won the game, 3-2.
“Unfit to participate” was a phrase that came about amid the NHL’s implementation of COVID-19 protocols, but the term has come to be used for essentially any missed time in the NHL’s bubble. Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was “unfit to participate” and missed the team’s first round-robin game vs. Philadelphia, later revealing that he had a cough and was kept away from the team for safety measures.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Pastrnak was dealing with an injury, not an illness, when he spoke after the Game 2 loss.
“He was questionable from the game yesterday afternoon,” Cassidy said. “Unfit to participate. We don’t believe it will be long term. That’s the hope. So hopefully, targeting Saturday at noon [in Game 3].”
Details are scant on the specific injury, but Pastrnak did appear to show some level of pain while celebrating Bergeron’s game-winning goal on Wednesday:
WINNER, WINNER CHICKEN DINNER!
— NHL (@NHL) August 12, 2020
Pastrnak did miss practice for the Bruins on Monday, one day before the scheduled start of the series. (The series didn’t start until Wednesday, due to the five-overtime game between Columbus and Tampa Bay.) For that practice absence, the only explanation was that Pastrnak was “unfit to participate.”
Pastrnak was in the arena as a spectator for Game 2, so that likely rules out any COVID-19 or illness-related explanation for the absence and instead points to an injury.
Cassidy noted that Saturday’s early start time will make it challenging for the Bruins to assess Pastrnak’s availability, so his status will likely be a game-time decision.