When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NHL to postpone the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2020 and created a “bubble” to play the games, it was a historic moment for those who participated.

In the Western Conference, players, coaches and staff had to sequester inside a small area that included Rogers Place and nearby hotels in order to play hockey under strict protective guidelines. As it turned out, several groups stayed for over two months in order to crown the Tampa Bay Lightning as champions. With many of the participants returning to that same locale for Games 3 and 4 of the 2024 Western Conference Final this week, there was some callback to the experience.

“It’s a little PTSD walking in here,” said Stars coach Pete DeBoer, who was coaching the Vegas Golden Knights at the time.

Pete DeBoer talks to the media ahead of Game 3 @ EDM

“It was an experience I would never sign up to do again, but it was a great experience,” DeBoer added. “It was a social experiment. We were essentially locked up for 60 days. I wish in hindsight I would have taken notes because I think I could have written a pretty good book about the experience.”

Dallas embraced the lockdown as the Stars adopted the phrase, “We’re not going home.” They pushed all the way to the Stanley Cup Final and lost to Tampa Bay in six games. It was an emotional run, and those memories come back for this mini stay.

“It’s the same hotel, same setup,” said captain Jamie Benn. “We played a lot of hockey here. We learned a lot as a team, we grew pretty close with each other over a two-month period. Those are a lot of good memories that we won’t forget.”

As part of the protocol, each team was allowed to bring depth players because the NHL didn’t want people shuffling in and out. As a result, youngsters like Jake Oettinger, Ty Dellandrea, Jason Robertson and Thomas Harley were mixed in with the veterans, even though they didn’t play much. Harley celebrated his 19th birthday in the bubble and was basically introduced to his new teammates during that span.

“The bubble was huge for me,” he said on Monday. “I got to spend a lot of time with guys that I wouldn’t normally get to. I got to know Miro and Roope really well, and it’s paying dividends now.”

Duchene and Harley on Hintz, being a strong road team

The Stars have been back to Edmonton on several occasions, but not for a multi-game stay. It was clear when the players got off the bus that they thought back to 2020.

“Just walking into the hotel, the smell triggers some memories,” Oettinger said. “It’s weird.”

Oettinger and Dellandrea became close friends, and the goalie said that a lot of the time inside the hotel was spent playing cards and talking.

“It wasn’t a lot of video games or anything, it was just good bonding,” he said.

Jake Oettinger speaks to the media before Game 3

That was a head start on normal development, and now those players are core pieces for the team. The Stars were led by Benn and veteran players who helped make it fun.

“It kind of felt like the teams that wanted to be there were the ones that went far, and the teams that had one foot out the door left early,” Oettinger said. “Our guys were all in. It was cool as a young guy to watch Dobby and what he had to do and how great he was.”

While it was an odd confluence, it also is the furthest most of these players have gone in the playoffs. There is an iconic picture of Benn sitting alone at his stall long after Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final had ended, encapsulating the pain and disappointment. That also helps create motivation for this season.

“It’s hard to get back to these situations,” Benn said. “And here we are.”

Key Numbers

In his first eight games in the playoffs, Stars center Roope Hintz had one goal. In his past four games, he has 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists). Hintz returned from an upper-body injury on Monday and posted two assists in Game 3.

Dallas has outscored opponents 15-10 in playoff third periods. Edmonton has been outscored 11-17 in playoff third periods.

Dallas ranks 15th in hits per game at 25.9 in the playoffs. The Stars ranked 31st during the regular season at 17.6.

He Said It

“Oetts is a big fan of playing in the away rink. He likes to be the villain, and I think a lot of us embody that, as well.”

- Stars defenseman Thomas Harley on why Dallas is 6-1 on the road in the playoffs. Goalie Jake Oettinger leads the NHL with a 1.42 road GAA and a .953 road save percentage in the postseason.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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