Those Seven Games…

Those Seven Games…

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Crushed.

I keep repeating that word in my head. Just letting it marinate until I can chew on it and get it through my system. My body is shaking from emotional exhaustion. This is the adrenaline wearing off, I’m pretty sure.

Seeing Reimer on the ice face-down in despair… crushing.

They couldn’t score the knockout against the Boston Bruins. They have had our number for so fucking long.

My dog is lying down next to me on the couch. He’s my crutch whenever I’m having a bad day. He’s an amazing dog. He is a mixture of a Poodle and Golden Retriever. He’s eight years old going on nine. A beautiful and happy dog who still thinks he’s a puppy. When the game was over, he just walked over and lied down as I sat in stunned silence.

He knew. We share the same moods it seems.

When he’s upset, I’m upset. I really dislike seeing him crawl into a corner during a thunderstorm. He would sit in a corner and just stare at the wall until the storm passed. I would go lie down with him and just give him a belly rub and tell him to come over to the couch. So he’ll curl up next to me and fall asleep. He seems to appreciate that.

And here he is tonight – returning the favour.

I’m calm now.  But I’m still chewing on that word.   At least it’s getting through my system.   I feel more disappointment than anger, so perhaps the five stages of grief will be cycled out by tomorrow morning.

I am getting more disappointed.   They had a 4-1 lead.  And they blew it.

We blew it.

I’m being melodramatic.

But it’s dawning on me that I felt it.  I felt that pain and agony and anger and helplessness…

I don’t know what happened in those final moments.  But I felt that pressure.  I felt that panic.

But I also felt the elation, the joy, the sense of accomplishment.

And only a team I cared about could do that.

You could hear it in their voices the other night as they gave their post-game interviews.  I would read Twitter and see that the players were chanting ‘Reimer, Reimer, Reimer’ after another unexpected win.  And that sense of camaraderie felt good.

When Phil scored what would turn out to be his first-game winning playoff goal, you saw his face and smiled with him.  You felt that relief.

When Phaneuf scored the first goal in game six, he unleashed a primal scream of joy and threw open his arms.

And you did too.

You felt that groin pull when Reimer desperately did the split to stopped a sure goal from Bergeron with just a sliver of his blade – and then the confidence to continue along.

Not since 1993 has a Maple Leafs team so captured the city’s attention that they demanded to be respected.   They pushed, they prodded, they fought, they skated and skated some more.  They would hit, and hit, and hit some more.

Their indomitable will to win with the odds stacked against them deserves commendation for its industriousness.    Every single inch of ice, they earned it.

The Leafs often spoke about how wonderful it was to sense the fans’ excitement; how they would feed off the energy of the Air Canada Centre crowd.   They would react incredulously that anyone would subject themselves to Toronto’s wacky weather and a confined mosh-pit just to cheer them on.

Our adulation and rousing ovations gave lift to their spirits when they were down 3 to 1 in the series.  And they came back.  We knew they had it in them, those beautiful bastards.

Then game seven happened.  Game seven encapsulated everything I know as a Leafs fan and more.  The horrible ending was, in a nutshell, the Leafs.  Just soul-crushing defeat.

But in Game Six, something changed.

Chara toppled.  And he more than just toppled; he fell.  Kessel skated hard into him to strip him of the puck and ever so slightly caused Chara to lose his balance and fall.  A giant went down and got up very gingerly – very slowly.  And that’s when I knew that this young, wildly inexperienced team found its identity.  They no longer allowed Chara to push them.  They pushed back.  They pushed a giant and showed him that they weren’t the pushover Toronto Maple Leafs.

They would not be intimidated by the odds.

I know the players learned something.  They learned that they could do it.  They lost the game, but that kind of collapse just isn’t going to happen again.  They know it.  We know it.  It is a once in a life-time experience that they will pass on to the next group of Leafs players ready to take the next step.

They will be much more prepared the next time around.  Another year of experience will not hurt them.  Only motivate them to want redemption.

This is a team ready to take on all challengers.

And we’ll be there for it.

I am no longer so crushed as I am a much more hopeful for what the future will bring.

“What we did is we proved we can compete. This is a sharp learning curve for some of our younger players that this is what it’s going to take. We did a lot of good things, but we still didn’t find a way to close it out. So that’s the difference… one goal, one bounce,  one bodycheck, one blocked shot could’ve made the difference for a win or a loss in the series.”
-Randy Carlyle