End Of The Road
First, a few comments on Game 7:
The Oilers sucked tonight. They did not deserve to win this game, which is a shame, because they played well enough to win throughout the rest of the playoffs.
The first period was one of the worst periods of hockey I've seen the Oil play. We looked good to start the second, but that penalty and subsequent power play goal took the wind out of our sails. I thought we started to pick it up, but got too fancy with the puck and missed out on some good scoring chances. The third period was the best one, but we just couldn't get it done.
Though I was far from the most confident fan going into the game, I have to say that seeing how relaxed the Oil were, and how tense the Canes looked in the pre-game, I thought for sure we'd win. Now, I have to think that what I thought was tenseness was actually determination.
Congrats to Carolina and their fans. You battled back, and stepped up when you needed to. I don't like you guys (edit: 'you guys' being the players, not the fans), but I respect you. Nonetheless, I couldn't bring myself to look at the screen when you were awarded the Cup. The thought of Joe Camel hoisting it up made me sick in a way that only thinking about Chris Chelios lifting the Cup can.
It's only fitting that this happens to be the round that I correctly predict. Just my luck.
With that being said, some closing thoughts on the playoff run that was.
Though I'm not a die-hard Oil fan (especially compared to members of the Oilogosphere), and the NHL is at best my third favorite professional league, I have to say that I got sucked in big time for this playoff run. Though an Oilers win wouldn't have meant nearly as much to me as the Red Sox World Series win did (or the next Celtics championship will), it's rare for most people to get to see a team they cheer for make a championship run. In some cases, it's even rarer to be living in the city to experience it - as I did for most of these playoffs. On Saturday, I came to the realization that this might be the last time I experienced that. I will probably be living in Edmonton for only one more playoff run (assuming they make the playoffs next year), after which my hopes for ever living through this again depend on me moving to Boston, Toronto, or San Francisco (and really, I mean Boston, since the Leafs don't have a prayer, and while I'd love to see a 49er Super Bowl win, I suspect that the shorter, and less frequent NFL playoff matchups fails to generate the sort of playoff buzz and atmosphere that the other three major sports do).
The playoff run began 59 days ago. For me, it began in the basement of a sports bar in Halifax. The local CBC affiliate was airing the Ottawa-Tampa Bay game, so I dragged my friends out to the only place in town that I could determine was showing the game. Aside from the guy wearing the vintage Tikannen jersey, I was the only Oilers fan in a place full of transplanted Ontarians who were cheering for the Senators, and Helly Hansen-clad Dal students (probably from Airdrie and Okotoks) who were (im)patiently waiting around for the Flames-Ducks game to start. After watching the first three periods and the first overtime there, I returned home in time to see Kirk Maltby's overtime winner. I watched the next two games, both Oilers wins, at home, including the double overtime thriller in Game 3 that kept me up until 3 or 4 in the morning (damn you Atlantic Standard Time!), and caused me to be seriously late for what was my last official day of work. I watched Game 5 on the airplane home, and watched the Game 6 win with Andy, Kevin, Avi, and company at the now defunct Scholars' Pub back in Edmonton.
I never imagined it would continue for 6 more weeks - that it would become the routine of my spring to watch and follow the Oilers' run. Like most reasonable people, I did not enjoy the clutch and grab NHL, and thus payed less and less attention to it over the past number of years. Aside from Toronto's run to the Eastern final in 2002, it had been years since I payed close attention to, and became really invested in the NHL playoffs. Additionally, it was impossible to talk to anyone without the Oil coming up, or to go anywhere without seeing an abundance of jerseys, car flags, and other merchandise. This city became Oil Country in every sense of the word. Then, after two months of playoff fever, it all ended. For me, the journey that began in a dark, basement pub on the East Coast of this country ended at a pub on Whyte Avenue, in the heart of the prairies. After walking the Ave for a bit post-game, I went home. I didn't want to talk to anyone, or see anyone. I just needed to let everything sink in.
While there's no question that the Oil performed well, and exceeded all expectations (I had them pegged 10th in the West at the start of the year), finishing second is no prize as far as I'm concerned. Just like the Calgary Flames and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim - the two previous teams to lose a seventh game in the final - we did well, but ultimately, we didn't succeed in our goal. Maybe I'll feel differently in a day or two, but for now, losing in the final just doesn't feel good.
The Oilers will be back. It might be as soon as next year - they will probably bring back most of the team, except, I would guess, for Samsonov, Peca, and one of their defenseman, or it might take another 16 years. I guess that's the great thing about playoff runs; you never know when they're going to happen, but when they do, they're incredible. I had a great time, and I can only hope that I get to experience it again soon.
Thanks for the memories, Edmonton.