The bubble works so well, for some it could be intolerable.
Every Monday, the National Hockey League announces the weekly number of positive COVID-19 tests among the thousands administered. Every Monday, for three consecutive weeks, this number is zero.
The virus cannot get in. And – barring elimination, serious injury, or a tough personal decision that will leave you open to unresponsive grabs – players can’t shy away from it.
“This is the most important thing that we probably don’t talk about enough. This is the most important thing that we didn’t talk about enough when the format came out, ”Carolina Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Monday, before an epic 4-3 collapse in Game 4 at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
“It sounded good four months ago just to get back into play. But that, for me, was going to be the biggest challenge. Everyone wants to play. We would play in the streets if we had to. Everyone is struggling with the same thing. It’s not (only) the players. Everyone who is here can sense it. It takes a long time to be absent. We’ve been out for three weeks and have played three playoff games.
Life in the closely guarded NHL bubble with a hotline has been described by some inside as “jail chic.” Breakfast buffets straight out of Ron Swanson’s dreams. High-tech golf simulators. Touch the football at BMO Field. All hands of poker, spikeball and Fortnite tournaments that a big kid can handle.
The great thing is you can hang out with the boys, talk, watch and play hockey 24/7.
What is difficult is 24/7 hockey.
“There is no escape here. Whenever you are at the hotel there is a lot of downtime to think about what has happened. There is hockey on TV all day. So that’s one of the challenges we face, ”said Torey Krug, Bruins defenseman and father of one-year-old Saylor.
” It’s hard. We’re getting to the point in these playoffs where it takes you – not seeing your family, your kids, your wife. It is starting to wear you down a bit.
Krug and the Bruins have taken center stage over the past few days on the bubble fatigue file.
Their finalist goaltender Vézina, Tuukka Rask, left Toronto hours before Saturday’s victory in Game 3 to be with his young family, got the organization’s blessing.
“We are here as one family. There are more important things in life than hockey, ”said Rask’s drummate Jarsolav Halak. (The veteran backup backed the cause in the best way possible, posting back-to-back Ws, giving Boston a 3-1 stranglehold on the series.)
The drain that comes with the sport’s hardest-to-lift trophy hit later in the schedule, but earlier in the tournament than usual.
What has always been a war of physical attrition has been complicated by a high mental test.
To think about: we are only halfway through the first round, and the cracks appear.
“This whole bubble thing,” Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet said after his own tough loss on Monday, “it’s about who wants to stay. You can tell who wants to stay and who wants to come home. For this game it looked like we wanted to come home.
In this Boston-Carolina rematch of the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals, the Bruins have now endured three straight games without Rocket Richard co-winner David Pastrnak.
On Monday, the sudden 4-seeded her way through a few swollen shots of string that Halak would love to come back, then mounted a championship-caliber comeback in the third period in which she hit four unanswered goals thanks to James Reimer and blackmailed the net like it was 2013 again.
Eviscerated Carolina frontman Justin Williams, life sucked out of his eyes, said: “It was, quite frankly, as ugly as a time when I saw us play.
Adding the injury to the insult, the rally was heated when Charlie McAvoy rocked Hurricanes captain Jordan Staal with a blow so hard it would give anyone with a history of concussion a break. (There was no immediate health update on Staal.)
“It really demoralizes the other team. When one of your veteran players, a leader in your arena, or truly a respected player in this league, takes a good hard blow, ”said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
“So it affected us positively, and probably them negatively. They are losing a guy who is a center stop player and who had done a really good job against (Patrice Bergeon’s) line this game, so for us that really helped.
Brind’Amour spoke after the game as if he had let everyone down with a mailing address in Raleigh.
“Even as I took on my coaching role, I wanted to make the people who support this organization proud of the way we play. I think we’ve done it most of the time here, and today we haven’t. And that’s the most disturbing thing for me, ”Brind’Amour said, taking the blame for not preparing his guys for the onslaught that would come in the bottom 20.
“Win or lose, you have to be proud of the way you play – and that didn’t happen tonight. ”
Yes, the Hurricanes did the quick job of the New York Rangers in the qualifying round, but they’ve now been tasked with the unenviable hurdle of generating an offense with their postseason leading scorer Andrei Svechnikov, watching from the almost empty stands. The sniper’s right foot twisted in the melting ice at the end of Game 3 and has since been stuck in a boot that rises halfway up his right shin.
Now they might have lost Staal and, worse, that courageous confidence that can make the Jerks look like giants.
– Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) August 18, 2020
Collect the coins and defeat the winners of the Presidents’ Trophy three times in a row, starting with a back-to-back game Wednesday through Thursday?
It is a tall order. Surely, in times of inactivity, the mind will wander beyond the bubble, to the house.
“The guys are feeling it. It’s a long road, ”said Brind’Amour.
“The team that can pack the best and mentally channel all of your positive energy into explaining why we are here is the team that will likely be able to hoist the Cup when this is all over.”