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As Lightning preps for Toronto, they are confident bubble model can be successful

The team has faith its drive to the Stanley Cup will overcome any additional pandemic roadblocks.
The Lightning split into two teams for its Blue vs. White scrimmage Monday at Amalie Arena in Tampa.
The Lightning split into two teams for its Blue vs. White scrimmage Monday at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jul. 22, 2020
Updated Jul. 23, 2020

TAMPA — The Lightning’s return to play hit a snag last month when the team was forced to shut down its training facilities for a few days because three players and some staff members tested positive for the coronavirus.

But with the Lightning scheduled to depart Sunday for their playoff bubble in Toronto having had no other known coronavirus positives, they are confident their drive to the Stanley Cup will survive any pandemic roadblocks.

The NHL announced this week that it logged just two positive virus tests from among more than 800 players tested throughout the first week of training camps. It said it conducted 2,618 tests. It isn’t announcing the names or teams of players who test positive.

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Lightning coach Jon Cooper highlighted the team’s commitment to daily testing.

“I’ve been pretty comfortable with the whole process,” he said. “The NHL has done a great job, and I really think our team’s done a great job, and we test daily. I know that’s not required, but we do it as an organization. And our owner (Jeff Vinik) supports that, and we want to.

“We’re committed to this, this season going on and pulling this off, but it’s only going to be pulled off if everybody pulls their weight. And that means you’ve got to be responsible, and you have to go through all the protocols and guidelines that are set out for us.”

The NBA and Major League Soccer also have bubble models to resume their seasons, both at Disney World.

Two MLS teams dropped out before the league’s return-to-play tournament began this month because of multiple positive tests, but Monday’s most recent test results from MLS reported no positives among the 1,168 administered in the bubble over the weekend.

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The NBA said Monday that no players had tested positive in its bubble since results were last announced July 13.

That’s promising news for the NHL.

“Tip your cap to (the other leagues) because if this can be pulled off, everybody’s got to buy in,” Cooper said. “And as a league, you have to buy in. And it’s not just your team. …We have to do this as a league, and they’ve done a great job.”

Last month’s Lightning shutdown — which happened while they were working in smaller groups for voluntary workouts — served as a reminder that players bear the greatest responsibility for making the bubble model work.

“I think right now the emphasis is just kind of making sure that everybody’s doing their part, especially as we come back here … with this training camp,” goalie Curtis McElhinney said. “And everybody’s been pretty diligent about it. We had a little hiccup, but I think as things have gone along, they’ve kind of been tightening up and just making sure guys are holding each other accountable to the protocols and what we need to do in order to get into that bubble and be safe. I think once we’re in there, it’ll be a pretty safe environment for everybody.”

Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.