The Toronto Maple Leafs just got eliminated by the Montreal Canadiens in a Game Seven heartbreak. It was 3-1.
And get this: Montreal’s goalie was the superstar.
Dear Toronto: we’ve been there. We know the way out.
In 2010, the Washington Capitals won the Presidents Trophy and then lost in seven games as Jaroslav Halak stopped everything thrown at him. Alex Semin famously went 0-for-44 shots. In short: the Caps got Halak’d.
And it sort of broke everyone’s brains for a while. The Caps convinced themselves Mike Green wasn’t a superstar, Boudreau switched defensive styles, and they even tried to make Ovechkin play defense for a while (gasp).
It was a slow disaster that took six or seven years to undo. I don’t know if the Leafs organization can avoid clawing their own eyes out here. The best thing they could do is forget this season ever happened — just memory-hole it — but I doubt that will happen.
Independent of what the team does next, as hockey humans you must now embark on the long and painful journey that follows a defeat of this particular valence. It goes like this:
You’re in pain right now, and you’re going to be searching for a reason why. There is none, but you don’t know that yet, so you will search.
You’ll pore over breakdown day interviews. Hmm, that’s some suspicious body language from the third line winger. You’ll scrutinize the playoff data. Definitely didn’t get enough hits when playing on the road.
At some point you’re going to feel the urge to create a spreadsheet. That’s when you hit rock bottom. For now at least.
Now you’ve got a stiff upper lip. You’re grizzled. You’re hardboiled. You’ve seen it all, and nothing impresses you anymore once the regular season (“the rego”) is over. There is no joy from game one to game 82; it’s just a ritual — an artifice that you must perform before The Real Hockey (the “loffs“) can happen.
During this phase, someone will tell you about how your team’s regular-season performance may predict their postseason performance. You will be tempted to scoff and call this person an “Analytics Andy” in a really snotty tone. That’s going to be a dark day for you, but you’ll get through it.
Welp, you’re just a full-on existential nihilist now. All life, or at least all life pertaining to hockey, is wholly absent of meaning. The rego is mere facade, the loffs: pure happenstance. Things happen, but they happen on accident. Winners and losers are arbitrarily assigned by an absent, insouciant hockey god who neither loves you nor hates you. In this phase you are not hockey fans so much as hockey flagellants, scouring yourselves because the pain is your only brief reprieve from the terrible knowing that this (this meaning existence, or at least Leafs-fan existence) is a mistake.
If you can speedrun this whole phase in an afternoon, that’d be best.
Now it’s late January or something, and your team is playing some team from the other conference and they’re down 3-0 or something, and it’s dreary.
But wait — something tremendously stupid has just happened. It’s not just absurd (everything is absurd), it’s bizarre. It’s downright… silly.
For the first time in a long time, you are giggling. Now you’re laughing. Okay, now you’re just manically wailing with laughter. It’s weirding everyone out, but you do you.
All of a sudden, you’re liberated. While you’re still not exactly immune to the psychic pain of loss, you come to realize exactly how much deliberation you have over how you experience this game and its stupid stupid teams (so very stupid).
Everything is permitted. The nicknames for players can now get dumber. You get to headcanon backstories for players and share those stories (or not!) with your other unabashed pals, who are just as dumb as you. Is that one defender secretly a pirate? Hey, that fourth line is just scoring as an excuse to hug each other. And all those suspicious Instagram likes from that one goalie? He’s obviously just doing COINTELPRO.
You are free to inject your own interpretations into the sport, which itself holds no inherent value. The game has no meaning except that which you place upon it. And you’ve decided that meaning is whimsy.
Oh, that’s weird.
Yeah, I guess it just sorta happened?
Huh. How about that.
You were just kicking it, having some laughs, debating if Denmark is a real place or a fictional one like Timbuktu, and whoops! The Leafs just won the Stanley Cup. How long had it been? Dunno. Stopped counting. Analytics Andy said it couldn’t happen, but he was so wrong he had to shave his eyebrows and drink only the purple Gatorade that makes all your bathroom trips harrowing.
Because success is an accident, victory is a mistake, winning is for suckers who think anything can ever truly be won. All we ever have is each other, and now, and the silliness and kindness we share.
Better luck next year.
Screenshots courtesy of NBC Sports
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