Sports. They'll break your heart.
As the San Jose Sharks sit in a 3-1 deficit in the Stanley Cup Final, it's very hard to see them winning three straight games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team that has outplayed San Jose for the vast majority of this series.
I expect some of the comments below to read "It's not over until a team wins four games" or "You don't believe in this team," or something along those lines. Don't twist my words; there's still a chance the Sharks can win this series (a 3.1% chance, in fact) and I'll be cheering them on until they lose their fourth game, but it doesn't look promising.
As a sports fan, you have to prepare yourself for losses like the one San Jose is close to facing. Some of the best and worst memories in our lives come from sports, whether that be watching your favorite team be crowned champion or a particular moment in general (think 2016 John Scott), sports have the power to greatly affect our lives and change the world. And that's funny, because at the end of the day, it's just a game. A childhood game played by grown men and women who are being paid hundreds of thousands, if not millions, to partake in.
Why do we feel pure nirvana when our teams win but gloom and depression when our teams lose? Perhaps it's because we, as fans, spend so much money, time, and effort into watching. That may sounds silly, that we're putting in effort to watch athletes who are in the best shapes of their lives play a game at the highest level, but it's the truth.
Being a California-born, Pacific Northwest-raised sports fan, I've dealt with my fair share of heart break. The Seattle Mariners - my first love - haven't made the playoffs since 2001, now baseball's longest postseason drought. The way the Seattle Seahawks lost Super Bowl 49 was difficult to process, considering the circumstances (JUST HAND MARSHAWN THE BALL). That being said, if the Penguins finish off the Sharks and continue to play like they have this whole series, the Sharks losing the 2016 Stanley Cup Final will be the lowest moment of my sports fandom. Unquestionably. I've prepared for that moment and I'd like to think I'm ready for it, but honestly, it's going to be tough.
Even with how the Seahawks lost the Super Bowl, I wasn't horribly heart-broken. Maybe that's because 1) I only started watching football when I got into high school 2) The Seahawks had won the Lombardi Trophy the year before and 3) The Super Bowl is just one game and not a seven game series. Watching them lose that game sucked, but it's not like any other playoff series, where the other team has to prove that they're better than you four times, and not just once.
This Sharks season has been so incredibly fun. Being several hundred miles out of the San Francisco Bay Area market, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase NHL.TV to watch the Sharks at college and it was one of the best investments I made all school year.
Here's a brief story: one of my roommates at school (there were six of us in total) was born in San Jose just like me. In fact, he was born at the Good Samaritan Hospital just like me, only six months after I had taken my first breath. Needless to say, he is a Sharks fan too. The crazy part is that we didn't know each other at all before the school year had started; none of us did, which goes to show how small the world really is. That's one of the ways we started bonding, and by the end of the year, other roommates would join us on the couch to watch the Sharks' playoff run. Having somebody else to talk hockey about and watch Sharks games with was so enjoyable, considering we go to school at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington.
Anyways, what made this season so special is that the Sharks looked to be heading down the road to rebuilding after not making the postseason last year, but instead did a major U-turn and turned into a Stanley Cup contender.
On Wednesday, May 25, 2016, the Sharks defeated the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals to win the series. Thousands of miles away in my apartment in Orlando, Florida (I'm here for a summer internship), I was pacing back-and-forth in my room. I shouldn't believe it. I couldn't believe it. The franchise that had been labeled as "chokers" or "perennial underachievers" would be going to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in history. I was shocked; I was in both complete happiness and utter disbelief that the Sharks, no, MY Sharks, no, OUR Sharks would be playing for the Stanley Cup just days later.
Yet, here we are. Reality has set in. San Jose has played a very good Pittsburgh team for four games, and Pittsburgh looks like the better team in every zone.
Despite the outcome of this series, the Sharks could very well find themselves back in this position a year from now. Why not?
Martin Jones took the team to the Final as a first-year starter, Joe Thornton had his best season in years at the age of 36, and the Sharks are playing with depth that no other San Jose team has had. There's no reason to believe Joe Pavelski won't have another 35+ goal season or that Brent Burns won't be a Norris finalist again.
It's easy to look at this team and say they're missing their window of opportunity. Thornton and Marleau will turn 37 this off season, Paul Martin and Joel Ward are 35, and Pavelski and Burns are on the other side of 30. Then again, age didn't stop these guys from producing in 2015-2016, why would it be different next season?
When the biggest pending free agent is Roman Polak (deuces), it's evident that the 2016-2017 San Jose Sharks will almost be an exact replica of this current team. Doug Wilson and Peter DeBoer saw what worked and what didn't in what has been an extremely successful year, and will build off of that.
If the Sharks can steal Game 5, that'd be great. Bring it home for Game 6, win that, and make Pittsburgh beat the best road team in the NHL to win the cup in Game 7. A lot needs to happen between now and Thursday night, but crazier things have happened.
That being said, there is no longer any margin for error and the Sharks' fate looks sealed. It's going to suck, it's going to hurt, it's going to be one of the worst days of your life, but why can't they do it again next season and come out on top?