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Islanders settling into life in Toronto NHL bubble: ‘We’re here to work, we’re not here for a vacation’

(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Life in the bubble isn’t so different for the New York Islanders.

After arriving in Toronto on Sunday — the host of the Islanders and Eastern Conference’s postseason — head coach Barry Trotz and his men are acclimating to life north of the border seamlessly as they prepare for an exhibition Wednesday against the New York Rangers and the start of their best-of-five qualifying series against the Florida Panthers.

“I think it’s just like anything, like a bit of a road trip,” Trotz said via Zoom Monday afternoon. “I think the procedures the NHL have done are terrific… but it’s really not a change [to what the Islanders have been doing].”

The hope is that the NHL’s bubble environment will help avoid issues that are currently being experienced by Major League Baseball. On Monday, it was announced that. COVID-19 outbreak swept through the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse, prompting the cancellations of two games.

“[The NHL has] been doing such a good job throughout the league where we are,” Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk said. “I’m pretty confident that we can keep going and staying in the bubble will certainly help because we’re not traveling.”

In the league’s latest round of coronavirus testing, zero positive results were yielded amongst the 800 players that were tested and the 4,000-plus examinations that were administered in the final week of Phase 3 training before teams left for the Toronto and Edmonton bubbles.

“I think the NHL and NHLPA put in a lot of work to make it a comfortable place for everybody to stay,” veteran forward Matt Martin said. “We’ll see how it all plays out, but I think they’ve done a great job in making it a comfortable situation for all of us.”

Martin is one of the innumerous players that had to leave their families — and his case, a newborn child — to rejoin his team for the NHL’s final push toward the Stanley Cup.

“It was hard, but all my teammates are doing the same thing,” he said. “We knew this was coming, it is what it is. We play this game for a chance to win the Stanley Cup and we’ll have an opportunity to do that shortly.”

“We’d love for our families to be here, but that’s not the way it is right now… We just have to stay focused on the task at hand. Facetime is a beautiful thing.”

The task at hand will be a best-of-five playoff round against the Panthers for a place in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The Islanders swept their three-game regular-season series from Florida, holding the Panthers to just four goals.

For Trotz though, it’s also about settling in Toronto.

“I’m about getting comfortable and acclimated,” Trotz said. “We’ve been working since the guys have gotten in. We’ve been very diligent. We’re still going to work like we did today [at practice].”

“But we’re here to work, we’re not here for a vacation.”

The exhibition primer against the Rangers will be the teams’ first glimpse at competitive hockey in over four months where Trotz will be looking for “pace and execution,” as the Islanders look to revert to their organized, defensive ways.

For the players, it’s the signaling of things getting back to normal.

“Even being at the practice rink we saw four teams… it’s coming to light that we’re getting to the playoffs and the play-in round,” Boychuk said. “It’s going to start and you get that kind of playoff feeling and mentality.”

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