Last year, after being knocked out by Buffalo, it was easy to pinpoint. Last year the wheels fell off with .02 seconds left in regulation in game 1. Remember that one? 7-6 Sabre win in OT. But the exact moment that series was lost came when Alfredsson hit the right post behind Miller with .02 seconds left in the third. A millimeter to the left and the Senators win, take the series lead and history changes. Instead that clank gave the Sabres a chance, they win the game in OT, Ottawa tightens up and lose three of the next four with barely a peep. For the rest of that much too long offseason, I could call that shot to memory at will.
But this...This has no such moment. There is no "AHA!" we can point at and say "That's what happened. That's why they stopped playing." And it drives me crazy.
No funny here tonight kids. Sorry. I'd love to be able to smile, say "Gee, what a great ride" and write something incredibly witty about Chris Philips somehow being the lost love child of Steve Smith. I'd love to be able to give the Ducks an unqualified congratulations, to feel good for the Niedermeyers and for Selanne, to say "The better team won." Except, I can't. I can't because I'm not sure the better team did win. Sure, the team that was playing its best won, no question, and full marks to Anaheim for playing the way they did. But the better team? Not sure. They didn't play the real Sens. The Sens that blew through three rounds in 15 games. The team that looked unstoppable and more important, knew they were and acted like it. But that team didn't make it to the final round. So, no, Anaheim may not have been the better team, they happened to be the team that was playing better, which was enough. But the better team? We'll never know.
I'll be taking a few days off now. I'm exhausted. It was a hell of a run, and a hell of a lot of fun at that, at least up until the last week. But before I go, I wanted to share my last thought before I turned off the television last night.
As the Ducks were whooping and yelling and hugging, the camera cut to a devastated group of Senators gathered around Emery, waiting for the hand shake. As I watched them, I fervently hoped that Alfie, or Redden or Fish would gather the team together one last time in the locker room and tell them to remember that feeling. Remember the feeling of watching the other team whoop it up with the Cup, while you stood there knowing that you didn't show the heart it takes to be in their shoes. Carry that feeling with you all summer. And when the big machine cranks up all over again next October, use that feeling as fuel.
Do that, and it will be our team carrying, crying into and drinking from the most beautiful championship trophy in all of sports. Rivalries? Bah! Leafs? Sabres? Suddenly meaningless. So much provincial piffle. We've got more important things to do. We've been to the top of the mountaintop, only to lose the summit on the last step, and we know precisely why we lost that step. With that knowledge, we will be invincible.