My father once said that finishing in second place feels worse than finishing in last place. He was absolutely right.
When the hockey season started, nobody thought of the Tampa Bay Lightning as a Stanley Cup contender. When they qualified for the playoffs, they were only the fifth seed and most people expected them to lose in the first round. I am sometimes accused of being overly competitive, but considering that the Lightning had not made the post-season in a few years, when these playoffs began even I said that I would consider the season satisfying if they simply won a playoff series instead of getting ousted in the first round.
So what this band of diligent overachievers wound up doing -- winning the first round with an inspiring comeback, defeating the top seed in the second round, pushing one of the NHL's storied franchises to a seventh game in the conference final, and finishing a goal shy of appearing in the Stanley Cup Final -- should be looked at as a rousing success.
Instead, I felt a wave of frustration when Game Seven ended. When you get so close to a prize that you can see it and sense it within grasp, you need to seize it because you just do not know if you will have the chance again. So after the Lightning gelled in the post-season and proved themselves to be true contenders, watching them come up short by such a narrow margin left me with an initial feeling that was negative but that I can not even begin to describe.
I felt anger toward Boston fans, who spent the whole series acting superior to everyone else and acting like the Bruins are entitled to the Cup just because they are an "Original Six" franchise. I could not help but remind them that the Bruins have not won a championship in two generations, and that their best player since the early Seventies had to be traded to Colorado in his final season in order to win the Cup.
And those were just my feelings as a fan. Imagine how it felt for the players, who have been striving for all of their living memory to earn the right to have their names engraved on the Cup. Imagine how it felt for goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who is 41 years old and played spectacular last night. He stopped 37 of Boston's 38 shots, only to see his own team take 14 fewer shots and fail to score, which left me remembering that a goalie should never be forced to pitch a shutout just to earn a tie.
Fortunately for my mental state, the "morning after" brings perspective. The Lightning far exceeded expectations and they provided their fans with multiple memories of playoff success, so I am happy. My hope is that the bitter taste of disappointment stays in their mouths and they use it to push themselves all the way to the pinnacle next year.
I have many thoughts about the upcoming Stanley Cup Final between Vancouver and Boston, but will save those for another post. I will close out this one by saying that everybody who loves sports and appreciates hard work should read this article about Martin St. Louis.