What a run it was - it just wasn't supposed to end like this.
A 2-0 win by the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Nashville Predators in Game Six concluded the 2017 Stanley Cup Final with the Penguins winning consecutive titles. A 2-0 score was the final in the last game of the postseason.
As the handshake line concluded and the Predators were serenaded with a 'Thank You, Predators' chant by their home crowd, the club retired to their locker room for the final time in 2016-17 to try to process and reflect on how it concluded.
"We believed in each other," Nashville Captain Mike Fisher said. "I mean, the 16th seed and we had to claw our way into the playoffs. We just never gave up, and it was quite the run. The types of adversities all year long, playoffs, injuries - we just never gave up and I'm just happy to be a part of this group."
"I was treating this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," goaltender Pekka Rinne said. "You never know when you're going to get another opportunity. The only thing I was thinking about was that Cup and dreaming about that and playing for that. Right now it's tough to accept and tough to handle. But I'm really proud of this team and the way we played, the way we handled things when we faced some adversity throughout the series."
The offseason now arrives all too abruptly for Nashville, an end that no one ever wants. The time for reflection will come - but for now, it hurts.
"You don't get to this point without investing an awful lot, as individuals, as a team and your personal life," Head Coach Peter Laviolette said. "There's a big investment that goes to getting to this point, so to just move forward and talk about what can be in the future is difficult when you're still sitting in the game and in the present of today. It's just a tough loss for our guys. They played well tonight, and it's difficult to think that we're not playing tomorrow."
It's so tough to reach the Final - even tougher to get back. But Nashville's opponent just did it. And in the NHL, anything is possible.
The season may pass, but the dream doesn't die.
"I think there's so many good things that we learned as a group, how to play, how to come together as a team, and how to believe in each other," Fisher said. "I think there's only positives that can come out of this. There's obviously disappointment and losing is never easy. I think we learned a lot as a group, a lot of lessons the guys will carry forward for sure."
"Our future is [bright]," defenseman P.K. Subban said. "We have so many guys that are going to take experience from this run and use that to propel them over the offseason and come in during the regular season and do what we need to do. At the end of the day, there are a lot of guys in the League that don't understand what it takes to get here; they've never been in this position before and we know what it takes to get here. We know what we have to do, and I think what we're going to take from this that we're going to have to be even better if we want to become champions."