Whatever you want to call “it”, a choke, meltdown, collapse, disaster, blowing it, hitting the wall, running out of gas, whatever — we’ve all come to deal with the Game 7 loss to the Bruins in our own way.
But tonight, it will be those same Bruins facing off against the New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs — and not the Toronto Maple Leafs.
And that sucks.
I suppose I find myself somewhere in between the anger and depression stages of loss, having had a couple of days for the denial to lose it’s grip. Every Leafs fan deals with it their own way. Some will be philosophic and look at the good things that were accomplished and to a brighter future. Others might be sad and withdrawn, still unable to fully cope with what happened Monday night. And there will be those who will be angry — some for a very long time — looking for someone or something to blame.
There’s no doubt when you climb close enough to the summit to see it, to feel it, yet fail to make it to the top — it really stings. For a brief while, a whole world of possibilities opened up and then in 18 minutes, was shockingly snatched away.
So, so close to what might have been. To get a chance to face the Rangers — a team many suggest Toronto matches up against better than the Bruins. At least there’s none of that psychology of dominance by the Bruins the Leafs had to overcome — and they so nearly did — to have a chance.
But now that we’re on the outside looking in (though we’ll try not to dwell on it), there’s a number of things we’ll sorely miss not being in the playoffs.
We’ll miss the trips to Broadway and play in Madison Square Gardens — even if it is via the TV screen.
We’ll miss the exposure, the buzz and the excitement a Toronto-New York series would have meant to the city, fans and TV executives.
We’ll miss having even greater insight into the heart of this Leafs team by going another round; seeing if those players with momentum could have maintained it or for those largely forgotten, a fresh chance to become new heroes.
We’ll miss the camaraderie and high spirits in the bars and places we gather to cheer on the Leafs.
We’ll miss seeing the endless sea of blue and white gathered by the thousands in Maple Leafs Square, showing the pride of Leafs Nation.
And we’ll miss the post-mortems of games with all their talking points because we were engaged, we were invested and looked forward with anticipation to the next game, the next adventure and do it all again.
Only now, we won’t as much. Sure there will be some great hockey played as these playoffs go deeper.
But as I sat down out of habit to watch Game 1 of the Pittsburgh-Ottawa series to see how Canada’s only remaining team does, can’t say I was all that engaged after the emotional letdown from the night before. With stars like Sydney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Erik Karlsson and others, there’s no doubt this series will have it’s entertaining moments. But the whole game I just felt blah. Didn’t care about the outcome at all.
Of course I’ll certainly watch but it won’t be appointment viewing. The playoffs going forward won’t be a good enough reason to get together to watch at a bar and share that sense of community as we hung on every play of every game, caught up in the excitement, joy and possibilities.
That’s gone. And so will be the surge in business at Toronto’s bars who’ll feel the pain too as their establishments won’t be packed with thirsty Leafs supporters.
There’s still a long road of good playoff hockey ahead and those moments fans live for will no doubt come as they always do. For eight years, that’s what Leafs fans had to settle for: you rooted for someone else as a fan of the sport since your own team stunk.
But now that we’ve had a taste of what it’s like to be invited to the party, it just feels like it’s not enough anymore. At least right now. Maybe in three weeks if something remarkable or crazy happens, check back.
But for now, the playoffs feel like watching re-runs. Seen it already. I’d rather have some new, original programming, thanks.