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updated: 6/2/2014 12:01 AM

Blackhawks' road to repeat hits dead end

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  • Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown crashes into Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in the second period of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Sunday at the United Center.

      Los Angeles Kings right wing Dustin Brown crashes into Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford in the second period of Game 7 of the Western Conference finals Sunday at the United Center.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

It might have been Freud who said the first step in the healing process is a busted stick over the crossbar.

Or maybe it was Dave Feamster.

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Either way, and whether true or merely an expensive gesture of frustration to the hockey gods, the Blackhawks will have some time to seek therapy on the golf course or at the local fishing hole.

It will give them time to ponder the season that was, and the repeat that wasn't.

"I can't think about anything right now," said Jonathan Toews. "It's so hard to get this far. To have it end now is a very bad feeling."

When it was over, sadness and anger gave way to appreciation, and the Hawks got one final standing ovation from the faithful in a season filled with celebrations and gratitude.

It was an impressive understanding of what the Hawks went through this year, and the effort necessary to go back to back in the marathon that is the NHL playoff tournament.

It was simply not meant to be, as the schedule and the competition conspired to ensure that for the 15th straight postseason the Stanley Cup will have a new dance partner.

The defending champs are no more. Long live the champs.

The Kings advanced to the Stanley Cup Final with a 5-4 victory over the Hawks in overtime of Game 7 at the UC on Sunday night and will have home ice against the Rangers as they attempt to win it all for the second time in three seasons.

The Kings become the first team ever to win three Game 7s on the road in a single postseason.

"That's a great team," said Patrick Sharp. "We're a great team, too. We just had no margin for error after being down 3-1."

The Hawks go home after their fourth appearance in the conference finals in the last six years, and while talk of a dynasty will quiet down for the next 10 months, Chicago hockey fans have nonetheless been treated to quite a run during the last half-decade.

"Nobody remembers the team that loses now," Toews said. "I never want to feel like this again."

The reality is the Hawks were outplayed in all three series this spring and won the first two mostly because of Corey Crawford's superb goaltending. The Kings made sure Crawford didn't beat them by making sure he couldn't see the puck, and because of that, Crawford was outplayed by Jonathan Quick.

Since the 18-minute mark of the second period of Game 2 the Kings have been the much more consistent team, and though Los Angeles showed composure and confidence, the Hawks crumbled in pressure situations and some of their best players were bad or invisible for long stretches.

The Hawks were outcoached and outskated.

Los Angeles was faster, smarter, bigger and deeper, Darryl Sutter playing young kids he trusted, while Joel Quenneville went with aging veterans too slow for this series and unable to contribute when it mattered.

The Hawks got beat by a better team that wanted it more -- two assertions the Hawks already dispute.

Sure, you can argue about which team might have started the series with more talent and desire, but the game-by-game results leave nothing in dispute. The Kings looked like the more talented team, and there's no doubting which team put more effort into the series from beginning to end.

Yes, the Hawks gave it all they had in Games 6 and 7, but they joined the series too late to give themselves a true shot at the conference title, when a single bad bounce could end their season.

As for the reasons, well, the record books tell us that no team has repeated since 1998.

That is a fact.

The Hawks played more games than any team in the league the last two years, combined with the shortest off-season in NHL history, and every one of their best players traveled to the Olympics.

That is reality.

They were physically and -- most important -- emotionally exhausted, leading to inconsistent efforts and highly unusual mental mistakes.

That should be obvious to anyone with a minimal hockey IQ.

Still, there is no shame getting beat by a better team.

There is no shame in winning the Stanley Cup and returning to the conference finals. There is no shame in giving in to exhaustion.

Once rested and perhaps even relaxed, however, the Hawks will realize the opportunity missed.

They will wonder if they threw away the chance of a generation, or if an empty tank made the task impossible.

The bitter taste of defeat will replace the need to heal, and they will bring that with them to training camp.

But that is for another time. Late Sunday night, Hawks fans gathered and stood one final time to remind the players that they will hold a special place in the hearts of the faithful.

As they depart for the summer, the Hawks can take that with them, too.

Small solace that it is.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.

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