The final two-and-a-half minutes of Game Six were gut-wrenchingly glorious. Dallas needing one goal to tie, Oettinger off the ice for the Stars’ man-advantage, furious shot after furious shot, pinging off the pipe, bouncing off Skinner’s pads, juicy rebounds crawling across the crease–a frantic flurry that ended with Edmonton hanging on and advancing to the Stanley Cup Final and sending the Stars back home for the offseason.

The Stars outplayed the Oilers at Rogers Place for all 60-minutes last night. They outshot Edmonton 35-10; it’s the first time in NHL history a team won a playoff game with just ten shots on goal. Dallas owned the puck for more than 75% of the minutes. You can make the case that Dallas played their best game of the Western Conference Final last night. And they came up short. By one goal. By a couple of inches.

And it’s over.

Here are my thoughts in the immediate aftermath of this terribly disappointing development.

Lord Stanley’s Cup is the absolute hardest trophy to win in all of sports. It’s a grueling gauntlet. To win the NHL Championship, you’ve got to breeze through at least one of your playoff series. You’ve got to sweep at least one of your opponents or win a series in five games. It’s too physically taxing, it’s too emotionally draining, it’s too hard otherwise. Dallas had to chase last year’s champions, the Vegas Golden Knights, after dropping the first two games at home, and took seven games to finish them off. They dispatched the previous year’s champs, Colorado, in six games, but the finale took two overtimes, so it was like a seventh game. And it caught up to them. The draw was difficult, yes–Edmonton had a much easier path to the Conference Final. But if the Stars are going to fight so hard through the season for home ice advantage, then home ice needs to be an advantage. They dropped Game One in each of the three series and were chasing things from there on out. It’s too hard.

In a seven game series, the better team is going to win. Dallas suffered too many injuries to key defensemen and exerted too much energy in playing from behind in every series. It was obvious by the end of Game Four that the Stars were done. At this point of the postseason, the Oilers are the better team. Now, understand, this is NHL hockey. It’s not like other sports. One thing we love about hockey is that things can change so quickly. Most of it’s quite unpredictable. If the Stars get one little break last night we’re playing a deciding Game Seven at the AAC tomorrow and, in Game Sevens, anything goes. That’s how close it is. That’s what makes those last two minutes so incredibly wonderful and crazy. The thing about a seven game series, though, that you can’t deny is that the better team almost always wins.

Last night’s loss is especially painful for longtime Stars veterans like Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Ryan Suter. The window is closing for these loyal Stars and you just don’t know how much longer they can keep it up. The Stars have 13 players under contract for next year and most of them are entering the prime of their young careers. Miro, Roope, Borque, Logan, Wyatt–these guys have all played in back-to-back Western Conference Finals and they are going to break through to a Stanley Cup soon. I’m guessing at least 30 of the NHL’s 32 teams would trade rosters with the Stars right now and love it.

I’ll say it again: NHL playoff hockey is the best thing in sports; yes, it’s better than football. It’s lightening fast, requires incredible skills, ultra-physical, and the only sport that offers a true “sudden death.” It’s the two-and-a-half-hour heart attack. The Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win. And the Stars gave us a dynamic run for it again.