Tampa Bay emerges from NHL bubble as Stanley Cup champs


Photo courtesy of Sean Marshall (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The entrance to the Royal York Hotel in Toronto is decorated with Stanley Cup playoff signage in August. This hotel was one of two locations NHL players used for their “bubble” to house athletes during this year’s hockey season.

By Remi Goldstein, Editor in Chief

Since being shut down in March, the National Hockey League worked to figure out a way to bring hockey back in a safe and realistic way. Their ultimate solution: two bubbles. Starting Aug. 1, Scotia Bank Arena, home to the Toronto Maple Leafs, belonged to the 12 Eastern Conference teams. Rogers Place Arena, home of the Edmonton Oilers, belonged to the west. 

To keep their players safe, the NHL took every precaution they felt necessary. A video posted on NHL’s Instagram on Sept. 12, explains that instead of having teams travel, they completely rented out two hotels, one in Toronto and one in Edmonton. Here each team was assigned their own floor, dining area and function/meeting room. Players had daily temperature checks, frequent COVID tests and were obligated to wear masks any time they left their rooms besides when exercising, eating, playing or drinking. Players could not go out for dinner or serve themselves buffet-style like usual. Instead, players pointed to the food they wanted and were served as if they were in a school cafeteria. 

Additionally, up until Sept. 5, no family members were allowed in the bubble. Even then, only Canadian families were allowed in after a mandatory 14-day quarantine. Some players have been away from their family for almost two months and joked if their families still remembered them. When seeing his wife and baby in the bubble for the first time in over 70 days, Dallas Stars player, Justin Dowling, said, “Do you remember me?” to his baby according to an Instagram video posted on Sept. 11. Aside from the difficulty of being away from their families, the league accomplished their goal of keeping players safe, as they have had zero positive cases since the players first arrived on July 26.

The Stanley Cup playoffs formatting was also extremely different than what players are used to. Adjusting the 16 team playoff norm, the NHL decided to take the top 12 teams from the Eastern Conference and the top 12 teams from the west. For the first time, 24 teams would be in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because there were eight extra teams, the NHL added a best of five first-round series. Referred to as the “qualifying” series, the bottom eight teams in each conference participated. The winner of the best of five series then faced one of the top four teams in their conference whose spots were determined based on the results of a round-robin tournament. Another difference in this year’s playoffs is that there were no fans or family allowed at the games. This removed the energy that surrounds players every game. It also made it so being the home or away team didn’t matter nearly as much.

However, like any playoffs, there is always the underdog who surprises everyone. Defeating the 1-seeded Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Islanders surprised hockey fans with their impressive run that ended in Game Six of the Eastern Conference final, sending the Tampa Bay Lightning to represent the East in the Stanley Cup. For the West, it’s been the Dallas Stars who proved fans wrong. Many predicted they wouldn’t even make it past the qualifying round. Instead, they battled Tampa in the finals. However, winning the series 4-2, the Tampa Bay Lightning conquered the Stars and were given the honor of hoisting the Stanley Cup Trophy on Sept. 28. 

Since March players and fans have been anxiously wondering if there would be a 2020 Stanley Cup, and who would win it. After rigorous planning, the NHL was able to bring their sport back to life. Even though the 2020 playoffs were different than what players and fans were accustomed to, the NHL’s ability to keep players safe and fans entertained has made bubble life successful and historic. 

Photo credit: “The Bubble” by Sean Marshall (flickr.com/photos/7119320@N05/50241893482)