Welcome to playoff heartbreak, Vegas

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As far as sports narratives go, there was plenty of magic surrounding both the Vegas Golden Knights’ and Washington Capitals’ quests for a Stanley Cup. When it comes to suffering, the gulf couldn’t be much bigger, as the Capitals have been waiting to win it all since 1974.

During this Golden Knights run, fans of unsuccessful teams griped about the expansion draft, the bounces that went Vegas’ way, and sometimes even flat-out admitted what the grumbling was truly about: envy.

Now, finally, fans of all other 30 NHL teams can present them with some empathy.

Some would probably say that June 7, 2018 is the true “birth” of Vegas Golden Knights fans. After all, do you truly understand the range of emotions a human experiences until you get your heart absolutely broken by the cruel whims of high-stakes hockey?

The 4-1 series loss to the Capitals featured interesting beats for fans who’ve experienced similar pain (even if such pain came much earlier in a given season):

  • Your top line proves itself … only to sputter.
  • An all-world goalie looks far too human.
  • The opposing team’s defense rarely gives you room to breathe, and all those things that worked from October to (early) April suddenly shrivel up into non-activity.
  • Suddenly, the percentages go from friend to enemy.
  • It all ended so swiftly, and cruelly. Your team seemed poise to extend the series, with a late lead in the game, only to see a couple goals happen in a few minutes and before you knew it, it was all over.

Fans – particularly those of teams who were juggernauts during the first 82 games of a season only to see it all crumble during a couple of weeks – are nodding their heads so hard at those notes. They’re probably grimacing, too.

After falling in Game 5, it seemed like every Golden Knights player could just copy-and-paste what head coach Gerard Gallant had to say about falling just three wins short of a championship.

“We had an outstanding year, but it doesn’t feel like it right now,” Gallant said. “Obviously, we’ll get to that in a few days’ time. I didn’t talk to the team after the game. They don’t want to hear me after the game. They’re disappointed and dejected, obviously.”

At some point, Golden Knights fans will feel great about this run again. They have the advantage of this being a truly unusual situation. Their first go at this exceeded any reasonable, honest expectation, likely even more than the most optimistic person in that organization.

For all we know, this could be the best shot the Golden Knights ever get. That thought must dawn on at least some Golden Knights fans at the moment, mixing the disbelief of making this far with the fear of the unknown, even if this loss stands as the first article of clothing for their playoff baggage.

Yes, such jokes are inevitable. If you dig around on social media enough tonight, you’ll probably witness people getting into sports misery contests.

For the more welcoming among us, this is instead like comforting your child after they get dumped or rejected for the first time.

With that in mind, let’s imagine ourselves giving grumbling Golden Knights fans a little pep talk.

“Yep, this hurts. Maybe it cuts the deepest when you truly feel that sting for the first time. And, no, it’s never fun or easy, especially when that sweet victory seems so close. Even if your team becomes a dynasty, you’ll probably end most seasons with a bitter taste in your mouth. Maybe the thought of staring down the abyss haunts you, but what fun would it be to quit?”

(Summer goal: get better at pep talks.)

Want to watch Game 5 in its entirety? Click here.

MORE:

Capitals break D.C. drought, win Stanley Cup.

Ovechkin takes home Conn Smythe.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.