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Thursday, June 5, 2008

Season Over, Empty Feeling Inside

I have been unable to bring myself to write anything about the last couple games or anything really and even as I sit here right now, I know that I'm still not ready. My main reasoning for even doing this right now is strictly therapeutic so bear with me.

I won't stand to see or hear anyone even try and blame this loss on Marc-Andre Fleury. Does he probably want those 2 soft goals back? No question, but he's got a free pass for life as far as I'm concerned with how he played down the stretch in the regular season and how he played in the playoffs. His performance in Game 5 was nothing short of legendary. That clinic he put on will make it's way to instructional DVDs in no time.

I can't remember the last time I was this jacked up about this team. That triple overtime win, despite the circumstances of staving off elimination may have been the pinnacle of my fanhood this season. I sat alone at work, hands shaking, stomach turning. I've never been that nervous in my life and then it happened. Max Talbot saves the day to send it to overtime and Petr Sykora calls his shot to send me into a state of euphoria. It was amazing is all I can say. Fleury was brilliant between the pipes and I really thought we would be sending it back to Detroit for a Game 7 at that point. Obviously that didn't happen and an immense sense of sadness and an empty feeling has crept over me.

For the last two weeks, I've been having dreams of hearing "The Penguins are Stanley Cup Champions!" I woke up with a smile every day. There will be no smile tomorrow morning, not yet. I'm always sad to see the hockey season end, but to see it end with my boys hanging their heads and seeing the opposition hoist the Cup on our home ice will take a few days to get over.

By no means am I trying to take anything away from the Red Wings. They are a phenomenal squad and deserved very much to win the Cup. For as much as I wanted the Pens to win, I never really expected to win like I had for previous series. What I wanted was if we didn't win, to at least make Detroit earn it. It is my firm belief that we accomplished that. We may not have shown up much or were just not ready for what the Finals brought in Games 1 and 2, but for the last 4 games of the series, we gave Detroit everything we had and the better team prevailed in the end. Simple as that. There was even a small glimmer of hope at the very end that Hossa had tied it with under a second left in the third period only to see that hope squashed by the oncoming rush of Red Wings players from the bench.

Eventually I will get over this and so will the guys on the team and realize the bigger picture. Five years prior this team was in shambles and going nowhere. Last in the league in standings, major stars heading for the hills and it all started to turn around last year. I didn't expect them to even make the playoffs last season and they surprised me and did exactly what I expected against Ottawa. Nothing, but we gained the experience needed to make a strong Cup run.

Flash ahead to this season. Crosby and Fleury go down and the hopes of Pens nation rested squarely on the once shaky shoulders of Ty Conklin. Out of nowhere he has a career resurgence and Evgeni Malkin goes on a tear and suddenly we're fighting for the conference lead in the standings without 2 key components.

We then get healthy and get Marian Hossa and the pieces for a championship run began to fall into place. They rip Ottawa a new one in the first round, dispatch the Rangers quickly, send our hated cross-state rivals home in 5 games and all of a sudden I'm sitting on top of the world. All the suffering over the past few years was actually worth it to get to this point. We sat just 4 wins from immortality and just got flat out beat by a much more experienced team who nobody was going to beat this year.

Eventually I'll be ok with what just transpired over the last few days. Maybe I'll feel better later this week when I've had a few days to digest this and realize how great the accomplishments these kids attained this season really are. Maybe I'll feel better knowing that we have an excellent chance to get back here again very soon and actually win it, now that we know what it feels like to be on the losing end. Maybe I'll feel better when I see this team back on the ice next season with a new attitude. Not a cocky one, but a confident one that expects nothing less than to win it all. You could see it in their eyes this season that it was going to be different this time around. Maybe I'll feel better when we figure out what to do with Hossa and Ryan Malone and establish our roster for next season. By then the sting will have worn off and the excited giddy side of me will return. Until then I'm going to go shave off my playoff beard.

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