ESPN+ docuseries goes behind the scenes with Bruins-Lightning in the bubble

Frank Gunn
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper is blunt with his players when talking to them about the Bruins. –Frank Gunn

The premiere episode of this year’s edition of the docuseries “Quest for the Stanley Cup” features some colorful and worthwhile moments with the Bruins, even if we already know the disappointing truth about the abrupt end to their quest.

The series, which premieres on the streaming service ESPN+ at 6 p.m. Wednesday, brings fans behind the scenes during the NHL postseason. There is a twist this year, of course, with the teams sequestered in bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton as the league tries — thus far with impressive success — to complete its playoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Game 3 of the Bruins-Lightning second-round series is one of the matchups emphasized in this episode. It was an ugly one for the Bruins, and also a pivotal one. The Bruins lost, 7-1, to fall behind in the series, two games to one. The Lightning would go on to win the series in five.

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Both Bruins coach Bruch Cassidy and Lightning coach Jon Cooper were miked up for Game 3. For the sake of not giving away too much, I’ll just note Cooper’s bluntness in talking about the Bruins to his team after the first period, in which the Lightning took a 2-0 lead.

“You’ve put them in an uncomfortable spot, right?” said Cooper. “They don’t want to be here, they don’t know how to handle it, because you’re harder. And the reason you’re doing it is because you keep getting pucks behind them. You keep [expletive] pounding them, and they don’t like it. You can send a message now that we’re here.”

The Lightning outscored the Bruins, 13-4, over the final three games of the series. I suppose that counts as a message delivered.

The behind-the-scenes glimpses and relative candor of players and coaches are the true appeal of “Quest for the Stanley Cup,’’ which began in 2016. (A new episode will air each Wednesday on ESPN+.) Even though the juiciest stuff undoubtedly is filtered out, this year’s series provides an especially compelling look given the unique weirdness of the whole situation, with teams competing and more or less living together in the bubbles.

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Wednesday’s episode also provides a thoughtful look at how the players came to the decision to unite in protest against systemic racism after the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin.

The Bruins’ Torey Krug is one of the players who provides a look at what life is like inside the bubble, including having the cameras follow him for the daily COVID-19 test everyone must take. It is eye-opening to see masked players carrying their bags along empty concourses, or to watch a couple of Flyers provide a tour of the grounds, and realize that what they’re experiencing is essentially a real-life form of the movie “Groundhog Day.” Some of these guys must be so sick of each other.

“People don’t understand how hard it is at this moment,” said Rick Bowness, the current Dallas Stars and former Bruins coach, during one early clip on Wednesday’s show. “It’s great that we’re playing and the league is back, but it’s tough.

“I give the league a lot of credit. They’ve made us all feel safe, we’re secure here, everyone’s being tested, we’re all wearing masks. That being said, this bubble living, it’s not what you think it is, and until you’re living it day to day, you don’t understand what everyone is going through.”

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