Hotel rooms are scarce in downtown Tampa this week because the place is overrun with conventioneers, so when the Montreal Canadiens lost a last-second heartbreaker to the Lightning on Wednesday night they decompressed on the longish bus ride to their suburban digs.
Once they got there, the players trudged into a conference room for a postgame meal.
"It was pretty quiet, but there was small talk among little groups of guys, and it seemed like it was all positive. Guys didn't think the result was justified, and I think we wanted to justify the result [Thursday] by coming out with the right effort … and we did," said defenceman P.K. Subban.
There was nothing terribly special about the spread, said teammate Brendan Gallagher, it was just a chance for the Habs to sit together and process what had just occurred.
"It was tough, you're kind of looking for answers.… I was personally just wondering what happened. Obviously I was a little upset, a little pissed-off, but I woke up, the sun came out, it was a new day," he said.
Sometimes a late-night snack and a chat with your pals is enough to jab the reset button.
In any case, for the Habs it was a launching pad of sorts – the team got up and hung a 6-2 pasting on the Lightning on Thursday in a game they simply had to have.
"This team has had our number," said goalie Carey Price, who stopped 22 of the 24 shots he faced. "It's definitely a step in the right direction."
Perhaps more important than the win itself, the Habs chased goalie Ben Bishop early in the second period after scoring three goals on just 14 shots – Subban called it "a confidence-booster for our team."
And they head into another must-win Game 5 on home ice Saturday with the good vibes that come with having six different scorers and 13 players with at least a point.
The Habs have been good at even-strength throughout the series, but in game four they were able to effectively exploit the middle of the ice to better effect than in previous games.
Subban's creative stickhandling in the high slot after gathering a pinpoint Max Pacioretty pass in the third minute of the game shook his checker and created enough room to hit Andrei Markov with a pass that was swiftly deposited behind Bishop.
Instances where the Habs have controlled the centre of the ice while in the opposing zone have been comparably rare in this series; they had half-a-dozen in the first period alone.
"We honestly feel like we've been wearing them down and that it's going to start to hopefully turn in our favour," said Pacioretty, who had a goal and two assists. "We have a good group of skaters on this team, and if we wear them down it's going to open up the middle of the ice and allow us to make more plays."
Bishop wasn't up to his usual standard in this one, yielding a back-breaking third goal to David Desharnais by blowing a simple glove save – although as Tampa coach Jon Cooper noted afterward, his club "hasn't been stellar" in back-to-back games this season.
The situation remains dire for the Habs, but their claims that they've been the better of the teams and are able to beat Tampa – something they hadn't done in eight straight games – don't ring quite as hollow as they did after game three.
Montreal has also muzzled Tampa captain Steven Stamkos in two straight games (he didn't record a shot on Thursday) and even if the Bolts were able to score a pair of power-play goals on Price, by then the Habs were up 5-0.
Pacioretty said that despite the positive signs involving the club's key offensive forwards – Alex Galchenyuk recording a pair of assists, Desharnais scoring a goal, Tomas Plekanec, Pierre-Alexandre Parenteau chipping in with an assist – he has no illusions about the task ahead in Saturday's game five.
Bishop will be back in his net, and Pacioretty said, "It's obviously not the first time he's been pulled in his life, I expect him to show up next game and be even more motivated."
The question for Montreal, which has never extended a series they've trailed 0-3 beyond five games in franchise history, is whether Bishop's motivation – and his club's – will exceed the confidence gained when an offensively challenged team scores six times in an elimination game.
Tampa has now played two clunkers in a row; the Habs have stirred to life.
The Bell Centre promises to be a rowdy place on Saturday night.