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updated: 6/2/2014 4:49 AM

Epic series has sad ending for Blackhawks

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  • Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford reacts Sunday to giving up the game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at United Center.

      Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford reacts Sunday to giving up the game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals at United Center.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

Honestly, this epic Western Conference finals series between the Blackhawks and the Kings deserved to go to a Game 7.

And that Game 7 deserved to go beyond regulation time, because that's how good it had been.

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In a game and a series that will be remembered for years to come, the last two Stanley Cup champions battled toe to toe into overtime Sunday night before Alec Martinez' scored the game-winner to give the Kings a 5-4 victory and a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final, where they will face the New York Rangers.

But if you think there was a overt jubilation in the Kings' locker room after their huge win, think again.

That's because they were awfully drained from this heavyweight battle.

"This series, and I can only speak for myself, was probably the most emotional seven games I've ever played," said Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown.

"One, the caliber of the two teams, and also how the games were won and lost on both sides. Leads, third-period leads, leads early, leads late … it was emotional."

And to think, Brown was on the winning side.

For the Hawks, they were one goal -- one lousy goal -- away from advancing to defend their Cup championship of last season.

"We were pretty close to getting to the big dance," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "You look at how close we were. How competitive it was."

That it was.

After the Kings jumped out to a 3-1 series lead, the Hawks took Game 5 at home and then forced a Game 7 thanks to Patrick Kane's heroics Friday. But despite home-ice advantage in the series finale and an SRO United Center crowd that was into from the anthem on, it wasn't to be.

"Really disappointing," Duncan Keith said. "You don't get this far, to Game 7, one shot, one goal away from going to play for the Cup. It's just really disappointing, I don't know what else to say."

The Kings dashed the Hawks' hopes of getting the chance to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.

"It's a tough league," Quenneville said. "It's a tough thing to do to win the Cup. I couldn't be prouder of our guys the way we competed in some tough situations.

"One shot away from going and trying to do it again. I've lost some tough games, but nothing like tonight."

The Kings will host the Rangers beginning Wednesday in Los Angeles.

The Blackhawks, meanwhile, saw their postseason -- one in which they showed their heart by battling back from a 2-0 deficit to St. Louis in the opening round and then a 3-1 deficit to the Kings in the conference finals -- come to an abrupt and shocking end, considering the momentum they had built up in their last two games.

"Everybody knows it's tough to win a Stanley Cup, whether you won it the previous year or not," said Patrick Sharp, who had 2 goals Sunday. "Tonight was two good teams with a lot of guys that have gone the distance and won Stanley Cups before."

The only people not in shock after this one were the guys from Los Angeles.

"Deep down we definitely felt we could do this," Anze Kopitar said.

"We believe we were a better team than they were this year," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "Last year I felt like their team was a little bit better, but this year we felt like we were the better team.

"We were just never going to let that go away. We were always going to believe that we could come back, that we could win."

The Kings tied the game 4-4 midway through the third on Marian Gaborik's 12th goal of the playoffs, and then Martinez delivered the dagger in overtime.

"They find a way," Quenneville said of the Kings. "They're never out of a hockey game.

"They're never out of a series … they're dangerous."

mspellman@dailyherald.com

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