The end is always the hardest part. You don't practice for it, you don't prepare for it, and you certainly never get used to it.
The end of the Augusta Lynx's playoff joyride came Friday night in a 4-0 loss to the bigger, faster, sharper Greenville Grrrowl. But there should be no shame in what happened inside the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center. To be playing hockey so deep into April is something Augustans never have felt.
We now know how thrilling an underdog playoff run can be, how it can bond a dysfunctional team and create a citywide buzz.
Yet what makes the end so uneasy to accept is not knowing what'll happen next. Will winger Jonas Soling, who will head back to his home in Sweden soon, ever return to Augusta? Will captain Dan Kopec retire to an engineering job in Canada, as he's hinted about these past few months? Will coach Dan Wiebe spend another night behind the Augusta Lynx bench?
And will some NHL team ever give goalie Judd Lambert the chance he proved he deserves?
The 20 Lynx members slumped at their lockers at game's end, all sitting in their sweat-soaked undershirts and pants as if holding on to the season would somehow keep their spirits afloat.
They all knew this night would arrive, the time they'd be forced to stare down postseason uncertainty. By the look in their faces, the Lynx probably would have liked one more night of avoiding the queries.
But those questions are here, front and center. Because on this night, the Lynx ran out of lives, the failure of their special teams their prime cause of extinction.
"Just when it seemed the end was near, we were always able to have another rebirth," Wiebe said in describing what he'll remember about the 1999-2000 Lynx. "We were riding a pretty big wave at the end. At some point, it's going to catch up to you."
There would be no rebirth Friday on a night when the energy, the spunk, the flicker of extra reserve all seemed to evaporate. Two Greenville power-play goals, and a third seconds after the Grrrowl's advantage expired, did Augusta in.
All you needed to know about why the Lynx's in-the-clouds run ended could be found toward the end of the second period. Down 2-0, the Lynx found themselves, with a two-man advantage for 1:22. Finally, there was a chance to breathe life into a spent team, and into a flat crowd.
At no time during this hockey revival was a goal more required than at that moment. Yet, not only did Augusta not score, but the Lynx also did not get a shot on net. They skated and passed, and skated, and passed, but they could not find any tunnels to fire through. All they saw were the large, lumbering Grrrowl defensemen -- average height 6 feet, 2' inches, average weight 225 pounds -- wearing those hideous purple and black jerseys and protecting the net like Secret Service agents would the first lady.
"That sequence was a big blow," Wiebe said.
It would be a microcosm of a night with too many swings and too many misses, a night that Lambert could not steal, a night where the Lynx played like the 10th playoff seed that they are.
The Grrrowl played a tight 60 minutes of hockey, the kind of suffocating stuff that finally stamped out this air in Augusta's playoff balloon. They were the better team this series, and they deserved to advance through.
What becomes of the Lynx is another story. There will be new names, new faces come October. Memories of this booming stretch run should linger with everyone involved.
But the end, never an invited party, has arrived, albeit later than most expected.
Reach Rick Dorsey at (706) 823-3219 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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