After watching the Sharks defeat the Golden Knights in Game 7 overtime – a game during which they were trailing 3-0 late in regulation – it just feels wrong to talk about how the Flames should proceed with their offseason. I mean, after a playoff classic like that? It’s hard to care about much else.

Though it’s also easy enough to relate it back to the Flames: why, exactly, they couldn’t pull off anything like what the Sharks did at any point in their series? The Sharks, after all, also came back from a 3-1 series deficit – it’s possible, for as much as the Flames seemed ready to throw in the towel.

Let’s get philosophical. Which way to lose is worse?

Just laying out my personal emotions, but for me, there hasn’t been much to the Flames’ past three exits from the playoffs. It was so clear the Ducks were going to dismantle them in 2015 that not getting swept victory in and of itself. The end of the Flames’ regular season in 2017 left me with doubts; I didn’t think they would get swept (thanks, goaltending), but I thought they were going to lose. And by Game 3 in 2019, the Flames had made it obvious their season was over, and the remaining periods were just a formality.

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So the Flames’ losses were, ultimately, rather painless. (This past season is a little different – it held actual expectations – but those were mostly gone by the time the puck dropped for elimination.) It’s difficult to get worked up when you can see it coming, to do more than shrug your shoulders and say, “Yup, bye then.” There aren’t any inherently strong emotions associated with it – not like losing in, say, overtime of Game 7.

Or by one goal in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Flames’ failure to just put it all away – despite being so close – in 2004 is what’s kept me coming back to them time and time again. There’s a certain adrenaline rush that goes with watching high-stakes sports that makes them so difficult to quit or walk away from. Apathy is the worst emotion you can settle on – what is there that keeps you coming back? – even if it’s probably better for your heart overall.

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So, here’s my first question. From a fan’s perspective, which is the worse way to lose: bowing out quietly without much of a fight like the Flames did in five games, or having the score go so horribly against you like it did for the Leafs in their Game 7 this year? The former left you with little hope; the latter, much more of it. Is it better to have experienced that hope to begin with and be disappointed, or to just have been disappointed from the start?

I don’t think I’m sure of the answer there – it would have been great to have seen the Flames actually push back and have a couple more games we could have actually enjoyed, but maybe it was better to just get it over with quickly if the end result was going to be the same.

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My second question. From a fan’s perspective, which is the worse way to lose: bowing out quietly early on, or having a 3-1 series lead, three chances to close things out, twice in overtime, and to lose on all three tries like Vegas did? You get to feel good at the start of the series – which was even the case with the Flames after Game 1 – but in the end, it’s just even more disappointment. Not being able to fight back is one thing; not being able to close things out despite so many opportunities is something else all together. Both call character into question, but which instance is the more concerning?

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And finally, my third question. From a fan’s perspective, which is the worse way to lose: establishing a solid lead in Game 7 only to see it all go away in part due to a questionable penalty call, like what just happened to Vegas, or to simply bow out quietly? If Cody Eakin had received a minor – not a major and a game ejection – then the Golden Knights are probably well on their way to the second round. The officials almost certainly had a very direct influence on the outcome of the series. On the other hand, though, you have to play the cards you’ve been dealt, and there’s really no excuse for Vegas having that disastrous a penalty kill that they allowed four quick goals to go against them.

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So maybe, in that case, the Golden Knights can raise their heads a little higher – it wasn’t totally their fault they collapsed – but does that take any of the sting out of it, knowing they do have someone else they can blame for at least a part of their defeat (as small a fraction as it may have ultimately been)? Or is that just being delusional and making excuses for their own failures, an inability to close things out despite multiple opportunities to do so? And is that better or worse than having your own failures staring you right in the face in the form of a pathetic five-game loss, knowing the team could have done so much more and there really is nobody but themselves to blame? Nothing can really be done about the former, but the latter…

The heartbreaking losses play a big part in keeping people coming back for more, even though they’re always so much more painful than they really should be. But then, I guess that’s just what sports fandom is – and this year, the Flames just couldn’t really bring it. It spared you the hope, but the hope is actually what makes it fun.

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