EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Cut!
The Southland's wonderful little sports sequel closed production Monday, its stage in tatters, its stars in tears.
A decade after being spawned by a movie of the same name, a hockey team's championship run was canceled one day short of history, a victim of the affliction suffered by the celluloid original.
The story was simply too good to be true.
In a dark and chilly room, ringed by thousands of howling witnesses, the Mighty Ducks' two-month show was shut down in a 3-0, Stanley Cup finals Game 7 loss to a New Jersey Devil team rooted in realism.
The Ducks becoming the first West Coast team in 78 years to win the Stanley Cup?
That story line trickled away like tears down the cheeks of Jean-Sebastien Giguere as he slumped in the net while the Devils danced around the ice.
"It's tough ... it was really tough to see them cheer," he said.
The Ducks fulfilling the long-fought-for dreams of Steve Thomas and Adam Oates, a combined 37 years in the league with no Cup?
That plot twist ended with Thomas slumping to one knee on the ice for several long minutes, then skating off into the eventual embrace of a weeping daughter.
"This is the kind of thing that stays with you for a long, long time," he said.
The Ducks answering the career-long prayers of Paul Kariya and Steve Rucchin, a combined 18 years in Anaheim with little respect?
The idea was history as Rucchin sat red-eyed on a bench in the corner of a small, littered dressing room, waiting for the media to leave him alone with his pain.
"This is so hard, not just physically, but mentally, emotionally," he said. "I think I'm waiting for the cameras to leave to see how I feel. To know how hard it is to get to this point, to come so close."
The Ducks, skating in circles while doubled over in pain, were close enough to watch the Devils throw down their gloves and jump into each other's arms at the end of the game.
The Ducks, dressing slowly underneath the stands, were close enough to hear the prolonged roar from 19,040 as the Devils paraded the gleaming Cup around the Continental Airlines Arena rink.
Close but it was Devil goaltender Martin Brodeur who was smoking the cigar.
The Ducks lost not by fluke or fate, but fact.
The Devils were better. They were more experienced. They were calmer under pressure. They earned home ice during a regular season in which they scored 13 more points than the Ducks, and they made the Ducks pay.
After the Ducks' first two losses here, Thomas openly wondered if they weren't overwhelmed.
After the Ducks were blitzed here in Game 5, others wondered if they weren't paralyzed by the moment.
Then, on Monday, Coach Mike Babcock used two words to describe what was eventually their downfall.
"Stage fright," he said, referring to a scoreless first period during which they skated hard but ineffectively. "I thought we had a little stage fright."
This is what happens when you're involved in a tall tale. At some point, you realize it, and the realization is suffocating.
The Ducks will wake up today to discover that they lost a Game 7 to a team whose most consistent offensive weapon was a guy who didn't even play in the first three games of the series, the guy named Michael Rupp.
They will also discover that they lost after two pucks slipped through the pads of the league's hottest playoff goalie, that guy named Jiggy.
Their moment was here. But, for an organization that had never advanced past the second round before this spring, the moment was too big.
You could see it when Rupp's shot skidded between Giguere's legs for the first Devil goal.
You could hear it when Devil Jeff Friesen banged Kurt Sauer in the corner, then overpowered him in front of the net to whip a shot around his back and into the net for the second goal.
"It came down to one game, and we just couldn't get it done," said Rucchin. "One game."
And one epitomizing scene, midway through the second period, with the Ducks still trailing only 1-0, with Kariya controlling the puck alone behind the Devil net.
He was waiting for someone to challenge him. The Devils stayed back.
He was waiting for a teammate to break free in front of the net. The Ducks couldn't find any room.
He waited, and waited, and finally flicked in a pass that was deflected out of the scrum and ended up on the stick of a Devil.
In the end, when it counted, the Devils behaved with the calm of homeowners, while Ducks were as jittery as guests.
"We'll never completely get over this," said Marc Chouinard. "Even when we're grandfathers, we'll think of this."
It was hard, but fair, with the only questionable result occurring in the media voting for the Conn Smythe Trophy awarded to the playoff MVP.
Brodeur set a playoff record with seven shutouts, tied a finals record with three shutouts. But Giguere, the darling of the first three rounds, became only the fifth player on the losing team to win the trophy.
Yes, he was booed when he received it. And, yes, he would gladly trade it.