Before practice on Saturday, nearly the entire Carolina Hurricanes team - masks on, of course - formed a circle on the turf area inside the locker room to play a friendly game of two-touch soccer.
They hooted, they hollered, they clapped. The vibes were loose, and the energy was high.
It was exactly what you wanted to see the morning after a tough 3-2 shootout loss, a game in which the Canes seemed poised to win at least twice - they took a lead late in regulation, only to see that erased in the final minute, and they scored on the power play in overtime, only to see that wiped off the board due to an offside zone entry. That happens! It's hockey, after all.
"We felt loose. We know we put in a good effort last night and just came up a little short," Brady Skjei said. "We just want to build on that and bring that same work ethic and same mentality into these next couple of games, and hopefully the result will be different."
The practice that followed the jovial warm-up was equally as light-hearted. The Canes focused on a few details of their game, sure, but for the most part, the Sunday morning skate offered the team a chance to get on the ice, flush the weirdness of the night prior and have a little fun. There was even a rogue chirp to Andrei Svechnikov about staying onside in a drill.
That's what it's all about.
"You need to have fun out there. I think today was a good day to compete a little bit and have a little laugh," Jesper Fast said. "Tough game yesterday, but I feel like we played a pretty good game. It was a tight game and a hard-fought game."
Perception is a funny thing, right? On the one hand, after seeing their eight-game winning streak snapped in Detroit, the Canes are now winless in three straight. Cause for concern? Hardly, especially given that the team played one bad period in their last two games and essentially saw Columbus snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on Saturday night.
But, on the other hand, the Canes have secured at least a point in 10 out of their last 11 games. Through 30 games, the Canes are 20-7-3 with 43 points, a franchise best mark. The team's points percentage of .717 ranks fourth in the entire National Hockey League.
This isn't the time to let negativity creep in, especially after an effort that simply didn't get fully rewarded.
"It's pretty hard to be down on the group when we played a really good game last night. We played exactly how we had to. You can easily look at it as we won that game," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said. "Just some weird things that happened. To lose in overtime or the shootout, that's the talent show at the end, and we're missing a couple of talented players. I'm not too concerned about that."
Speaking of some talented players that the Canes are without: Both Petr Mrazek and Vincent Trocheck practiced with the team on Sunday, and both will travel to Columbus.
Mrazek had the pins removed from his right thumb following last month's surgical procedure, so his return is now a matter of when he feels ready.
"He needs to feel like he can play and contribute at the level he needs to. It's just a good sign we got him back out there," Brind'Amour said. "I think we're moving in the right direction."
Trocheck wore a yellow, no-contact sweater for his first practice with the team following an upper-body injury he sustained almost two weeks ago.
"He's not close, but it was nice to get him in the mix and around the team," Brind'Amour said. "He's a great teammate, and he's got a lot of energy. I think it's just good for him and the guys to be together."
The Canes and Blue Jackets will face off on Monday and Thursday in Columbus to close out this four-game set.