The last game the Capitals played was March 9 against the Buffalo Sabres. On March 12, the NHL suspended the season. That's how fast things went when the coronavirus began spreading through the United States.
No NHL games had been played in front of an empty arena yet -- Columbus was scheduled to play Pittsburgh in an empty arena that night -- no team had missed a scheduled game and the NHL had only just implemented its new rules preventing media access to locker rooms. We went from the league implementing precautionary rules regarding the media to the complete pausing of the regular season in less than a week.
When things went bad, they went fast. Or, at least it seemed that way from the outside looking in. What was it like for the players?
"It was weird," Nicklas Backstrom said on a video conference. "You're coming in on a game day and trying to get prepared, but at the same time, we were like, 'Is there going to be a game? What's going on? Are we going to play with no fans?' It was just a weird day."
The Capitals were scheduled to host the Detroit Red Wings on March 12, but on March 11, NBA player Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the abrupt postponement of a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Later that night, the NBA postponed all games. The NHL had a scheduled conference call with teams in the afternoon of March 12, but the league did not initially halt the season after the NBA's decision. That meant that teams like the Capitals had to prepare for a game that likely was not going to be played.
"Looking back at it, when we came here that morning, I think we all knew that the game was going to be canceled," Backstrom said. "We were starting to hear about it, the government started shutting down things. We were basically just waiting for the NHL to make an announcement and then NBA had done it before, so we kind of knew it was going to happen."
The morning skate was canceled before the players took the ice. The NHL followed with the announcement that afternoon that the season had been put on pause.
"After that, it was 'Alright, go home. See you later,'" Backstrom said. "So, it was kind of awkward back then, but at the same time, now we know why."
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