“It makes it harder to dig yourself out of the hole.”
There is no question that bubble life has an impact on playoff performance. NHL players and coaches have all been in their respective bubbles for about three weeks now. No family, no true freedom, just wins and losses without the emotion of fandom.
Look at the qualifying series. On “elimination Friday”, August 7th, that’s exactly what we got, elimination. Six teams entered the day down 2-games-to-1 in a best of five series. All but one were sent packing. The Leafs won in overtime to force a Game 5 playing in their own rink. Was anyone inspired by the Pittsburgh Penguins performance, beyond watching Sidney Crosby? How many guys were dying to force a deciding game, knowing that if they won it, they would have earned an additional two weeks to two months of neutral-site hockey?
The New York Rangers are pretty stoked. Swept away by the Hurricanes in three games, outscored 11-4, anyone think they’re crying in their soup? No muss, no fuss, back home with the top overall pick.
The point is, some teams fold it up in a normal playoff season when facing a daunting task. It’s individual and collective mental make-up. We’ve been around long enough, we’ve seen the body language, the effort in certain cases over the years. Some results are way more predictable than others. I can only imagine to what degree that feeling has increased this year. I get it. It’s a different season. The world is upside down. Just like the league. it’s understandable that some players don’t feel like themselves. On purpose? No way. Subconscious and daunting? Absolutely.
Meanwhile, there may be a very positive flip-side to this. Often we hear people say the first round of a typical Stanley Cup playoff season is the most exciting, crazy, and unpredictable, while teams get tired, banged up, and more grinding as the rounds move on. Who knows? This year, maybe the craziness will complement the physicality of the later rounds. Teams will be six weeks in the bubble by the time they reach the Conference Finals. It might mean even greater energy and desire, as everyone battles to make the most of this highly unusual commitment.
“Obviously being away from family, the longer you’re away from them the harder it gets,” said Hurricanes forward Vince Trocheck on Tuesday, “but comfortability and getting used to being in here gets a little easier. I think like Brock (McGinn) said, at the end of the day we’re here to win a Stanley Cup and everybody on this team is focused on that. So being in a bubble doesn’t make much of a difference to us.”
Another motivating factor for the Hurricanes is that the next two games are back-to-back. Win Game 5, they get to turn around the next day and play Game-6. A smidge of solace after collapsing in Game 4.
Note: Tuesday night the Washington Capitals showed their championship pedigree by bouncing back from a two-goal deficit and stayed alive by winning Game 4 against the New York Islanders 3-to-2. Early in the game, it appeared they had already packed their bags and would be swept. They woke up and took advantage of an Isles team that gained a false sense of security with their first period lead. Game 5 will be a different story. Just another element of psychology: never assume anything.