On the morning of Thursday, Aug. 20, after one last round of COVID-19 testing, after one last health screening and temperature check, after one last team breakfast, the fence outside the Fairmont Royal York Hotel swung open as two buses departed the downtown corridor of the Toronto bubble.
After three-and-a-half weeks, the Carolina Hurricanes' stay in the Eastern Conference hub city was over, a journey that ended a month-and-a-half too early, but there was a consolation prize waiting on the other side: returning home to family.
Family is a core tenet of the Canes' organizational culture, and "care" - working hard for the people you care about and earning the trust and respect of others - acts as one of the five pillars of what makes a Hurricane.
"Family always comes first," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said in his season-ending press conference. "That was the big sacrifice in this … you have to leave your families for this whole time. The players were willing to do it, and they put the effort in."
Video: Thank you fans.
Life in the bubble presented unique challenges, toughest among them being separated from family and friends for an indefinite amount of time.
Technology, thankfully, offered a bridge between the bubble and home, as Brind'Amour and the Canes sought to integrate family into everyday life as much as possible.
On the night prior to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers, the Canes gathered at Real Sports, a sports bar located adjacent to Scotiabank Place (and inside the bubble), for a team dinner.
The highlight of the evening was a surprise for the team, a 20-minute compilation of video messages from the families of players, coaches and staff.
Jake Gardiner's family staged a "training camp" montage set to the Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius," best known as the Chicago Bulls' intro song. Brind'Amour's family created a "Full House" spoof.
Video: Family members surprise Canes players.
There were personal messages in Finnish, Czech, Russian and Swedish.
"My brother, it's me," Evgeny Svechnikov flashed his toothless grin. "Long time, no see."
There were laughs, there were tears and there were plenty of smiles.
"That's why we're doing this, right?" Brind'Amour wrapped up the pre-meal presentation. "Let's get it going."
A push notification hit our phones at 11:59 a.m. on Aug. 9.
"The league asked the GMs to show the teams an updated COVID compliance video ahead of the first round," it read. "All members of the traveling party need to attend this meeting, which is at 3:30 in Confederation 5/6. Thank you."
Everyone but one person knew the message was nothing more than a clever ruse.
President and General Manager Don Waddell leaned into the ploy and opened the meeting with a few remarks about health and safety inside the bubble. The "compliance video" began with the NHL shield and a shot of pucks being knocked to the ice in warmups before cutting to the NHL Network studios.
"Weekesy here," former Canes goaltender Kevin Weekes said. "Roddy, happy 50th man."
Brind'Amour tossed his head into his hands. What followed was 10 minutes of joy for the room and 10 minutes of squirming for Brind'Amour, as familiar faces from the Canes' head coach's past and present wished him a happy 50th birthday. The team then serenaded him, while a cake that read "Happy 50th Birthday, Rod!" and featured candles arranged in a 17, was brought in.
Even on his birthday, though, Brind'Amour abstained from eating any cake.
"I don't even know what to say," a flustered Brind'Amour said afterward, before quickly gathering his thoughts. "You guys can see what makes it special here is the people. That's what makes a Hurricane. It's because of you guys."
The Canes had a full week off in between the Qualifying Round and the First Round of the playoffs. In a world outside the bubble, the Canes would have spent that time in Raleigh.
Practices in Toronto helped fill the schedule, but there was still plenty of downtime, and the team was limited in what it could do. Brind'Amour again aimed to bring the usual comforts of home to the team virtually.
On multiple days during pre-practice warmups, family members connected with the team via FaceTime or pre-recorded messages of encouragement.
"I know how proud we are and pumped for you guys, and I know every single one of your families are feeling the same way," Courtney Martinook told the team. "There's lots of positive energy being sent to Toronto."
What it means to be a Hurricane is rooted in family.
Though the Canes didn't have their immediate families with them in the Toronto bubble, they thrived as a closely knit family group.
Though the Canes didn't have their family of fans cheering them on in the Toronto bubble, they still heard the noise from the Loudest Houses in the NHL.
And though the Canes fell short of their ultimate goal in the expanded postseason tournament, they traveled back home to reunite with their families after nearly a month away.
That, in many ways, is a victory.