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Lightning confront bubble life while waiting on start of conference semifinals

Baseball, football, Kan Jam and spikeball are on the list of things the players like to do with their time off.
The Lightning celebrate their Game 5 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday in Toronto.
The Lightning celebrate their Game 5 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Wednesday in Toronto. [ COLE BURSTON | AP ]
Published Aug. 21, 2020|Updated Aug. 22, 2020

Their first-round playoff series against the Blue Jackets in the books, the Lightning have time on their hands as they await the start of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the bubble at Toronto.

They’re using much of it to take advantage of the amenities at their hotel, Hotel X.

“We’ve got a good setup here,” defenseman Victor Hedman said in a Zoom conference Friday. “It’s been good for us, for our bodies, to have a couple of days to regroup and reenergize ourselves.”

One day before Wednesday’s clinching win against Columbus, groups of Lightning players took part in spikeball, kan jam, baseball and even a bit of football. They’ve also taken to the hotel’s courts for pingpong, tennis and pickleball.

Heading into the bubble, players and coaches thought video games and books would also make good companions for their time away from home.

The players stayed away from the rink Thursday and Friday, but they likely will practice through the weekend with the Western Conference semifinals beginning today.

Coach Jon Cooper has previously said that off-days aren’t necessarily good for the team because it is limited on what it can do inside the bubble. Even a light practice is good because it eats up time in their day.

Over the past five postseasons, days off between the first round and conference semifinals have been good for teams. During that time, teams with more time off between the rounds fared better than teams with less time off. The sole exception was 2018-19, when teams with less time off went 3-1 in conference semifinals.

Records of teams with more time off in-between Round 1 and Conference Semifinals
Playoffs Year Conference Semifinals Records
2018-19 1-3
2017-18 3-1
2016-17 3-1
2015-16 3-1
2014-15 2-2

Forward Anthony Cirelli doesn’t think the time between series is a trap. He said it’s good to have a couple of days to let bodies rest.

“But we still need to get out a little bit and be prepared, obviously, to be practicing here in the next couple of days,” Cirelli said. “I think we’re just gearing up, getting ready for the next round.”

But not everyone thinks bubble life has been good for teams from a mental standpoint — among other things, their families aren’t with them and there’s no indication if they will be allowed at some point — and that in turn affects the physical part of the game.

Stars interim coach Rick Bowness expressed concerns for the teams competing inside the bubble following Dallas’ 7-3 series-clinching win over Calgary on Thursday in Edmonton. He said play in that game was comparable to what he’s seeing throughout the league, attributing the situation to what teams are dealing with away from the ice.

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“People don’t understand how hard it is in this bubble,” said Bowness, a Lightning assistant from 2013-18. “It’s great that we’re playing and the league is back, but it’s tough. And I think that game — it was a mess, for both sides (Calgary led 3-0 before Dallas had a shot on goal; the Stars scored five times in the second period).

Related: The good, the bad and the ugly from the Lightning’s first round

“It’s tough to explain, but I don’t think people understand how tough it is living in this bubble. The league, you give them a lot of credit, they’ve done the best job they can. Everyone is handling it as best we can. But it’s tough, and give our guys credit. They battled back (Thursday). But this bubble living, it’s not what you think it is. And until you’re living it day-to-day, you don’t understand what everyone is going through.

“This isn’t as easy as you think it is.”

Cooper said Friday that he heard about Bowness’ comments but couldn’t speak for what’s happening in Edmonton.

“I know the NHL’s put their best foot forward here to make everybody’s needs and everything as kind of normal as possible … in this kind of environment or situation we’re in,” Cooper said. “But the bottom line is we go from the hotel to the rink; that’s been our life. And for the teams that advance, that just continues to be your life.”

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman gets ready to kick off a football with trainer Mikey Poirer in Toronto. Players said they like to get outside on off days and stay active when they're not skating on the ice.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman gets ready to kick off a football with trainer Mikey Poirer in Toronto. Players said they like to get outside on off days and stay active when they're not skating on the ice. [ Tampa Bay Lightning ]

Cooper said the focus needs to stay on why teams are in their bubbles and, ultimately, what they’re competing for: the Stanley Cup.

“It’s not a walk in the park every day being here,” Cooper said. “You can’t just go somewhere. You can’t go to the grocery store, you can’t go to the restaurant, you can’t do things like that. At times, it can be a challenge.”

Teams being able to spend more time together has been one benefit of life in the bubble.

While there have been challenges, Cooper said, teams are being treated well.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said. “It’s just been a different experience.”

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.