RALEIGH, N.C. -- They stood there, the storybook team, watching their childhood dream. Except they were watching.
They stood there, the Edmonton Oilers, watching the Carolina Hurricanes celebrate winning Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final - or not watching, as some chose to do with their heads down.
They stood there waiting for arguably the greatest ritual in sports, the lineup of shaking hands at the end of a long, hard, tough, wild, wonderful series, 3-1 empty-net failures in the game every Canadian kid pretends to play on the ponds, backyard rinks and the streets on their blocks.
It was over. They'd come so close. But they couldn't close.
"It hurts," said Chris Pronger.
"You want that to be you. You want to be the one carrying the Cup."
The Oilers didn't say around to watch former teammate Doug Weight, ex-Oiler stick boy Ray Whitney, Sherwood Park's Conn Smythe-winning rookie goalie Cam Ward, Red Deer 14-year veteran Glen Wesley, who had twice lost to the Oilers in the final, or Fort Saskatchewan's Mike Commodore carry the Cup.
"What do I need to see that for? I've seen pictures of it," said Pronger.
"To come up a little bit short ... it hurts. It really hurts," said captain Jason Smith, the Oiler who would have carried the Cup if they hadn't become the 12th visiting team out of 14 to make it to Game 7 of the final and not be able to win the last one.
"We felt right to the end that we were going to get it to overtime," said Shawn Horcoff.
"It was everyone's worst nightmare when we didn't. The feeling I have right now I never want to feel again."
FERNANDO GAVE IT A GO
Fernando Pisani scored his 14th goal of the playoffs and was foiled by a spectacular save with 3:40 to go to fail to tie the game and become the third final to go to OT in Game 7.
"It sucked," he said of watching the Hurricanes celebrate. "We thought it would have been us. We just showed up a little bit nervous in the first period. We weren't playing the game we usually do.
"I'm more disappointed in the one I missed than anything. I know I'm going to look back on the one I should have had."
Ryan Smyth, the longest-serving Oiler, who has an Olympic gold medal and had won everything else - World Championships, World Cup of Hockey and World Junior - had tears in his eyes.
"We worked so hard," said Smyth. "To get back in the series and get to Game 7, it's tough. We failed. To put everything down to one game to win the Stanley Cup and to fall short, it's difficult to deal with."
To go this far and end up losing, it will take the Edmonton players days and weeks, maybe even until next hockey season starts, to realize the entirety of what they've done.
Not negatively, by getting all the way to Game 7 of the final and then failing to close.
The Oilers went further on the Stanley Cup trail than any eighth seed in history. They scored the only penalty-shot goal (Chris Pronger) and the only short-handed overtime goal (Fernando Pisani) in the history of the Stanley Cup final. They wrote a sensational story, which began by defeating the Presidents Cup-winning Detroit Red Wings and included coming back from down two games to none against San Jose and overcoming a team flu epidemic against Anaheim. They gave Canada and the hockey world great hockey and a wonderful roller-coaster ride.
Try not to forget this morning that this was a 25-to-1 team in a town that almost lost its franchise before the lockout gave hockey a level playing field, gave the Stanley Cup an environment it had never before witnessed.
THE MEMORIES WILL LAST FOREVER
The sustained noise level and fans singing O Canada like it had never been sung at a sporting event before, especially after anthem singer Paul Lorieau held up his microphone and let them sing it by themselves, provided memories that will last as long as those manufactured by previous champions.
There was no Stanley Cup for the Oilers to carry and for Edmonton to celebrate in the end. But the team and the town gave to each other and everybody else dialed in, something to remember forever.
This was every bit as much about Edmonton as it was about the Oilers. In the end the Oilers didn't win. But Edmonton damn sure did. And Edmonton shouldn't stop celebrating this hockey team, because it wouldn't have happened without them.