Jared Bednar was cleared to coach the Colorado Avalanche in Game 6 of their second-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night after missing the morning skate because of a COVID-19 testing irregularity.
An Avalanche spokesman confirmed Bednar would be behind the bench in Las Vegas after the matter was resolved. Bednar was not at T-Mobile Arena on Thursday morning because of the coronavirus testing snafu.
Defenseman Devon Toews said the rest of the coaching staff ran the team’s game-day practice and bristled at questions about Bednar’s potential absence for the most important game of the season.
“It was pretty much business as usual,” Toews said. “There’s nothing to it, guys, in that standpoint. We come to the rink, we prepare for the game tonight. If we have Jared, we have Jared. If we don’t, we’ll prepare for that, as well. We’re ready to go as a group and we’re excited for the challenge.”
This is not the first time the NHL playoffs has gotten a virus testing scare. A laboratory error caused multiple false positives for the Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues during the first round, though an investigation ensured all players involved didn’t miss a game.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly earlier in the playoffs said nine of the 12 US-based playoff teams had reached the fully vaccinated threshold of 85 percent of the traveling party to qualify for relaxed protocols. The defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning are the only team of the four left in the US to confirm full vaccination.
The Montreal Canadiens are close to joining them after players got their second vaccine doses Wednesday.
Montreal will face the winner of the Vegas-Colorado series, with Tampa Bay going up against the New York Islanders in the third round for a second consecutive year.
Blue Jackets name Larsen coach
The Blue Jackets promoted Brad Larsen to fill the head coaching vacancy left after Columbus parted ways with John Tortorella after six seasons at the helm.
The 43-year-old Larsen, a former NHL forward who has been an assistant coach with the Blue Jackets for the past seven seasons, agreed to a three-year contract through the 2023-24 season, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said.
“We underwent an exhaustive process in which we looked very closely at a number of outstanding candidates to be the next coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and the one individual we kept coming back to throughout was Brad Larsen,” Kekalainen said in a statement. “Brad was one of the top young coaches in the American Hockey League when he joined our club as an assistant coach and over the past seven years has earned the respect of our players, staff, and organization with his work ethic, hockey acumen, and the way he treats people, and we couldn’t be more pleased to introduce him as our next head coach.”
The Blue Jackets were 269-208-59 during Larsen’s time as an assistant, which included stints working under Tortorella and Todd Richards. He has been with the team as it made four straight postseason appearances, from 2017-20. Larsen began his coaching career as an assistant coach with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL from 2010-12.
“I’ve been extremely proud to be a Columbus Blue Jacket and be part of this wonderful community for the past seven years, and I am humbled and honored to be the head coach of this hockey club,” Larsen said.
Hart finalists named
Oilers center Connor McDavid, Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, and Avalanche forward Nathan MacKinnon have been named the finalists for the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP.
McDavid, considered the likely winner of the award, dominated the scoring race with 105 points in 56 games — 21 more than runner-up and Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl, who won MVP honors last year. A McDavid win would make the Oilers the first team with different Hart Trophy winners in consecutive seasons since the Bruins in 1968-69 (Phil Esposito) and 1969-70 (Bobby Orr).