Mike Wise on the Washington Capitals' stunning loss to the Montreal Canadiens
In the end, they teased everyone.
Their crowd, so emotionally invested after 54 victories and a gaudy 313 goals -- 45 more than any other NHL team between October and the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The hockey establishment, all the smartest and brightest who picked the Capitals to win it all because of how they almost sparkled when they scored, won big and had a penchant for coming back.
Their coach, who arrived from Hershey about 2 1/2 years ago in near disbelief that Alex Ovechkin was suddenly his to groom, along with three other young stars barely old enough to legally drink.
The worst part is, the Capitals players had themselves believing they had the team, the talent and enough ornery players to tap in the puck when the supernovas couldn't.
They actually had convinced each other they could bring one of the four North American major team-sport championships to Washington for the first time since the Redskins last won the Super Bowl in 1992.
And they kept the façade going until the very end, managing to ignite a flickering, hope-against-hope crowd. Taking in the jeers and boos after Montreal made it 2-0 in the final three minutes, the Caps narrowed the lead by a goal, furiously trying to force an extra period.
Incredibly, after all of Jaroslav Halak's otherworldly play in net the past three games, they had their chances in the final seconds -- toying with the masses again.
Jason Chimera floated in on the right wing for the tie. Ovie fired away, one last time.
One and done? Implausibly, almost incomprehensibly, yes.