Drag yourself out of bed, depressed Predators fan. Peel your face off the pillow; blink away the light that means a new day came anyway, no matter how little you wanted it to. Let the memories of last night, and your Stanley Cup final loss, rush in. It’s all going to hurt. I’m going to show you a couple of videos you’re going to hate. They’re going to hurt, badly. I promise this is a good thing.
It should have been a good goal. You know that; I’m just saying everyone agrees with you, so there’s no reason to argue about it or get defensive. Filip Forsberg’s second-period shot squirted through Matt Murray, and Colton Sissons was right there to tap it home. It should have been 1-0 Predators, and who knows how the rest of the game and the series go if Nashville takes the lead there? Maybe they even win the Cup. Fuck...maybe they win the Cup.
But it wasn’t a goal. Referee Kevin Pollock, in the corner along the boards, lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle before Sissons put it in. The puck didn’t even disappear into Murray’s gear; it was clear to everyone in the building and everyone watching on TV and every other person on the ice that play was still live. You can see Pollock’s positioning on the replay that starts at 0:48 of the video—he was in the one spot on the ice where an official could lose sight of the puck. And he happened to be quicker with the whistle than officials usually are, or ought to be.
The call, as it was, was right. Pollock is supposed to blow the play dead if he can’t see the puck. It’s not reviewable, as frustrating as that is in a league where an offside call 20 seconds before a goal can be reviewed to determine whether a skate blade was an inch off the ice. When the whistle blows, play ends and players stop skating, and it would be impossible to put that genie back into the bottle.
Does that make you feel any better? No it does not. You got screwed, by a more obvious blown call in a more crucial situation than any team in recent memory.
Here’s another video. I swear this is leading somewhere and isn’t just sadism.
Can you remember a flukier goal? The puck bounced perfectly off the end boards, rolled up and off the back of the goal cage, and hung in the air for Patric Hornqvist, who did the only thing he could possible do: whack it and hope for the best. It banked off of Pekka Rinne’s back and in, and on a sequence where the Predators didn’t do anything wrong, they ceded the game- and Cup-winning goal. What a shitty way to lose, especially because the Preds “deserved” their goal that didn’t count more then Penguins deserved theirs that did.
By now, maybe you, the heartsick Predators fan, have gone back to bed or have trudged to work in a zombified daze. Somewhere between last night and, let’s say, the end of this week, the acute pain of the what-ifs (what if Ryan Johansen didn’t get hurt?) will give way to a numb ache. That’s the acceptance, and it never really goes away—it’ll forever be there waiting to be triggered by a random mention or stray thought. You’re stuck with this.
I don’t need to tell you this right now, but sports are so, so dumb: All the happiness that is waiting for you at the end of a championship season can not possibly outweigh all the pain of the failed seasons it takes to get there. But that’s the exchange rate we all agree to when we sign on for this whole fandom thing. And it is an investment. The suffering eventually comes back, magnified as joy. Maybe it’s a lie we tell ourselves, that’s it’s worth it, but if we all of us buy into it, it’s better to live that lie than the truth.
You don’t want to win too quickly, or too easily. (Well, you do, but you know what I mean.) You don’t want a fluky early championship—let’s use the Hurricanes as the cautionary tale here—for any number of reasons. Nashvillians have already caught plenty of shit from a certain type of hockey fan for not being true fans, whatever that means. That’s jealousy talking, and the only way to shut them up is to go through the rite of passage of having the universe take a dump on your emotions. You also don’t want to win too quickly or too easily because it’s bad for building a fan base. The Cup run itself then becomes the focal point of fandom, rather than long-lasting attachment to the franchise. What the Predators have done, a gradual rise to legitimate contender after a long fallow period, is the perfect way to get people hooked on the players, and the gameday experience, and the team itself—and they won’t desert it when things get tough again. A run and a loss like this makes fans for life. Nashville has proven a great hockey town when things are good, but when the downturn inevitably comes, there’s an entire generation that’ll stick with it, having gotten a taste of what’s possible. Just a taste, though, and that’s important. It’s addictive.
There are different levels of suffering, and now you know them all. There is the suffering that comes with years of being downright bad, the suffering of years of being just good enough to be irrelevant, and then there is this, the dagger that comes from coming within a couple of wins of a championship that maybe you think the Predators deserved, and maybe they did, only to see it ripped away thanks to bad luck and a bad bounce. You, the depressed Predators fan, can only think about how close they were, and how it may be years or decades or (don’t think it don’t think it don’t you dare even consider it) ever before they get so close again.
“The dream’s probably happened a million times for most of us. Being that close, being two games away, 120 minutes away from lifting the Stanley Cup, it sucks,” said P.K. Subban.
The Predators are good, and they’re young, and their cap situation is excellent, so there’s no reason to think they won’t be contenders for years to come. And they’ll carry this experience with them—the pressure of these late rounds forges teams into something hardier, something less likely to accept exits now that they know that pain. It shapes fans, too. This is the end of just being happy to come this far. You can’t really be a hockey fan without suffering, without fatalism, without a healthy touch of nihilism. The sport’s designed to do that to you, if you stick with it long enough.
Remember, slightly less-depressed Predators fan who’s gradually becoming open to the possibility that this isn’t the end of the world, when I promised the memory of this loss is going to periodically surface in your memory forever? That wasn’t entirely a threat. You’ll think back on this if you do win, and it’ll play some real role in making that win feel even more like it was earned.