EDMONTON -- The weather is colder. The ice is better. The building is quieter. The bubble is smaller.
But for the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders, none of the tradeoffs are outweighed by the fact that a change of pace has very much been welcomed after spending the first six weeks of this Stanley Cup tournament behind the fences in Toronto.
"This is our third bubble because we were one of the teams that were in the [Royal York] in the play-in round," Islanders Barry Trotz said Wednesday’s Game 2. "I think a little change doesn’t hurt us, that’s for sure. You’re still sort of cooped up, you’re just cooped up in a different place.
"I don’t think it hurts at all."
Inside Rogers Place, the atmosphere is different than what the two Eastern Conference finalists got used to at Scotiabank Arena. The simulated crowd noise being pumped through the speakers during games is noticeably quieter in Edmonton, which makes the on-ice chatter more audible from the stands and on the benches.
The temperature inside the building has also been set to arctic, which helps keep one of the best ice sheets in the NHL in top shape.
"I think the ice is a little bit better here [than Toronto]," said Lightning defenceman Erik Cernak. "It’s a little bit colder at the rink here, so I like it more here."
The Islanders started settling into the JW Marriott by taking a day off the ice Tuesday.
They faced a quick turnaround after eliminating the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night and flying here Sunday. New York pulled up to the hotel about 27 hours before puck drop on the Eastern Conference Final and never found the legs needed to play their puck pursuit style during an 8-2 loss.
While the Edmonton bubble comes with fewer amenities than what was on offer at Toronto’s Hotel X, we’ve reached the stage of the playoffs where all most players want to do is play games and relax/recover.
And the Eastern teams seem to believe the mental benefits that come with new surroundings are more important than the rooftop pool, tennis courts and pickleball courts they left behind.
"Whenever you’re in the same place for a long period of time, it’s kind of refreshing to just have a different change of scenery," said Lightning forward Alex Killorn. "I think both bubbles are different in the sense that, Toronto, there’s a little bit more to do outdoor-wise, the [COVID-19] testing is a little bit different here, but we welcome the change.
"I think to come to a new spot, a new hotel and make adjustments as if you’re on a road trip instead of getting comfortable in the same type of situation -- day in, day out -- I think it was a nice change for us."
By comparison, the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars are now in their seventh week at the JW. There’s an outdoor courtyard available to them to get fresh air, but have otherwise had to get creative with the Golden Knights creating a "Fun Committee" to help keep things fresh.
There have also been golf outings and trips to Commonwealth Stadium available to the teams staying in Edmonton.
One thing that stood out to Lightning head coach Jon Cooper about his team’s travel day was that it came with a feeling of normalcy because they got to leave the fencing behind.
"It actually felt like we were on a road trip for the first time in a long time," said Cooper. "But that quickly changed as soon as we got to Edmonton. When you’re on the bus, everything’s kind of normal, but when we pulled up to the hotel and now you’ve got to wait for the security guys to open the gates and then you kind of get locked in and there’s fences all over the place, then you’re like, ‘OK, we’re back in the bubble.’
"But, yeah, for a short time, it definitely didn't feel like we were."