For a brief moment, Justin Williams got to breathe.
The Carolina Hurricanes had just punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 3-1 win over the New Jersey Devils at home.
The Hurricanes adopted a playoff atmosphere in order to push for the better part of the season and rhythmically climb in the Eastern Conference standings.
They had to in order to finally bring an end to a playoff drought that lasted nine long seasons, and it took a lot of out Williams and the Hurricanes.
"It's felt like every game in the last month has been win or go home. That's what it's really felt like," Williams said after game 81. "We've pushed ourselves as hard as we can."
After five games in their First Round series with the Washington Capitals, it is now win or stay home for the Hurricanes, who face a 3-2 series deficit with Game 6 coming up at PNC Arena on Monday.
2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
It's not an unfamiliar position for the Hurricanes, but now their season is actually on the line.
"I think everyone plays their best with their backs against the wall, and now we're literally there," head coach Rod Brind'Amour said after practice on Sunday. "I'm pretty confident we'll come out with the best game we have. Is that going to be good enough? We'll see. I certainly would expect to be much better than the other night."
"The other night" was a 6-0 drubbing at the hands of the defending Stanley Cup champions in their building on Saturday. The Capitals capitalized, and the Hurricanes did not.
"We were working hard, but we weren't working hard at the digging in part of it," Brind'Amour said. "It was a combination of everything. You almost scrap that game. If we don't get to our game, it's going to look like that."
A critical factor in why the Hurricanes were never able to establish their game was a trio of injuries to top-nine forwards, none of which is expected to play in Game 6. Micheal Ferland has been sidelined with a nagging upper-body concern since Game 3. Andrei Svechnikov spent a lot of time on the ice Sunday - not that that's anything new - but remained in a yellow, no-contact sweater and a full-face cage.
"My head still hurts," Svechnikov said on Sunday. "It depends how I'm going to feel tomorrow."
"We'll see," Brind'Amour said of Svechnikov's status for Game 6. "I would say highly doubtful."
And then there's Jordan Martinook, who suffered a lower-body injury in the first period of Game 4, only to have to watch Game 5 from the Capital One Arena press box (and make an appearance on the radio broadcast) and take in Sunday's practice from the tunnel just outside of the Canes' locker room.
"Marty is trying," Brind'Amour said. "His heart's sure in it. I just don't know if his body is going to be able to let him go."
Martinook's loss is perhaps underrated. Among a medley of elements missing for the Canes in Game 5, his heart-and-soul approach was conspicuously absent.
"You miss that energy, for sure," Brind'Amour said. "When you have it, you don't really appreciate it as much, but when it's gone, you notice there's a big hole there."
So, it comes down to Game 6 at PNC Arena, with a partial crowd hopeful to see the hometown team play more hockey in the weeks to come. Game 7 is a different animal, tentatively on the docket for Wednesday in Washington, but the Hurricanes are approaching this just as they have every other game since the new year: one shift, one period, one game at a time.
"We know what's our situation, but we've been kind of in this situation this year, too," Sebastian Aho said. "We have a lot of faith in our group. We believe."