TAMPA -- Stephane Yelle had been here twice before, both times ending the Stanley Cup playoffs with a joyous party, gulping champagne out of hockey's greatest prize.
Last night, the veteran centre walked out of the St. Pete Times Forum carrying nothing but an empty feeling, the Flames losing 2-1 to the Lightning in Game 7.
"It's the toughest thing I've ever been through in hockey," Yelle murmured in the quiet Flames dressing room.
"To get so close (and not win) is crushing.
"That's what we play hockey for, to win the Stanley Cup. To come up a game short, or a goal short, is really tough to take right now ... it's hard to talk about."
The Ottawa native, acquired in a trade in October of 2002, earned Stanley Cup wins with Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001, his only other NHL team through nine seasons.
"It's hard to explain," Yelle said of his first experience watching another team skate off with the Cup.
"I've been spoiled having played in Colorado, now this is really hard right now."
Yelle, 30, recorded six points through 23 playoff games this spring but was the team's dominant man in the faceoff circle while providing leadership on and off the ice, a trait head coach Darryl Sutter recognized many times throughout the gruelling playoffs.
His only year out of the playoffs came last spring with the Flames, the team growing into a more competitive club this season.
Yelle pointed to the crushing 3-2 double-overtime loss Saturday night in Calgary as the moment the team let its Cup dream slip away.
"In Game 6, we didn't play our best hockey and again (last night) we came up short and it's hard to deal with," Yelle acknowledged.
A slashing penalty to Marcus Nilson just 70 seconds into the game and a tripping call against Oleg Saprykin 10 minutes later swung momentum in Tampa's favour with Ruslan Fedotenko opening the scoring.
From that point until Craig Conroy finally got the Flames on the board with 10 minutes remaining, the Bolts owned the ice and looked like winners.
"In our game plan, we wanted to stay our of the penalty box," Yelle explained.
"We ended up taking some early and they got that first goal and sat on it. We pushed but it was too late."
Losing the Cup is new feeling
DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun
, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET