I was thinking throughout the day about what I would write here if the Leafs won or lost. For once, I was actually thinking about what I could write if the Toronto Maple Leafs won a playoff series. About the speedy underdog with young kids trying to steal a series. About a comeback, about the excellence of individual players, and about two teams with deep forwards, strong goalies, and questionable defense.
I thought about what I would write if they lost. I could talk about the marginal gains, the fortunes that got us here, the young core, and a close series. We could laugh at the haters who thought the Leafs wouldn't see the first or the fifth playoff game, let alone seven, and enjoy a year where we didn't care about the draft lotto.
I wasn't ready to have a win taken away. I wasn't ready to have victory slip through the Toronto Maple Leafs' fingers, like a predictable punchline. I wasn't ready to have hope - dare I say confidence - so close to the end of a game, and to have that slip through the Toronto Maple Leafs' fingers. I wasn't ready to have a collapse undercut a close series: everyone should remember the series that made Bruins fans sweat, but no one is scared of a monster they can laugh at. Win or lose, I was going to write about a series the Leafs could - and should - be proud of. Instead, I got a horrible bait and switch: an unloseable situation that the Leafs managed to lose.
But one historic collapse later, here we are. I haven't re-watched the game-winning goal. I haven't looked at the matchups, I haven't looked at the shot differentials, I haven't even done enough to string together more than this "recap." I'm not sure I will for a few days. It's still tough to remember what happened - "surreal" doesn't normally apply in sports quite like this. The autopsies will come: first the jabs, then the stats, and soon the armchair analysis of needs and of management. For now, the gap is filled with shock where Leafs fans thought they couldn't be shocked.
I've been exposing my girlfriend to the sport I love so much. It has been great to have a period of such pure emotional investment in a sport and seeing it infect someone else. In a way, it's the essence of fandom: I may cheer for laundry, but I do it with such an intense emotional connection that it ignites passion in those around me. It's that passion - especially in sharing it with others - that has made this past week and a half so intense, so emotional, so enjoyable. It's that enjoyment that has me counting down the days until our shortened offseason is over, the red line gets repainted, and a familiar but different roster of names takes the ice. For the last recap of the 2012-2013 season: Go Leafs Go.