A question has been lingering ever since the Blackhawks fell behind early in the Western Conference finals.
What should the response be if the Kings eliminate the Hawks from the Stanley Cup playoffs?
Contact information ( * required )
After all, the Hawks were defending champions. They have been one of the teams favored to win another title. Failing would be disappointing for sure and perhaps devastating.
So the response in the public square to a loss would have to be outrage, right?
Sorry, no, even though the Kings' 5-4 overtime victory knocked out the Hawks in the United Center on Sunday night.
Some might want to say that the Hawks blew three leads in Game 7. The truth was that the Kings overcame three deficits.
"It's a tough league," Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said.
No team has repeated as Stanley Cup champions since 1998. A horse might win the Triple Crown for the first time since 1978 -- the early Belmont line almost guarantees it -- before an NHL team wins consecutive titles.
The Hawks simply met their match in another team with resolve and resilience. The Kings won three straight Game 7s on the road and had as many players making clutch plays at critical times as the Hawks had.
One more player and one more play, actually, over a grueling two weeks of hockey.
"The story," Kings winger Justin Williams said, "is how awesome a series this was to be a part of."
Game 7 had stretches in which the goals came in rapid-fire fashion. Then there were stretches in which each goalie kept his team in contention by keeping the puck out of the net.
There were hockey gods and hockey goats all over the ice, and sometimes they resided in the same hockey body.
The result overall was a classic Game 7 in a classic Western Conference final.
This game and series were so good that they might have sold hockey everywhere from Casper to Cancun to Caracas.
So rip the Hawks for failing to defend the Stanley Cup?
No, the Hawks as a franchise and as a team have done too much good the past six years to believe they did anything wrong except lose to another outstanding team.
Sometimes even champions just get beat. Sometimes they run into other champions who just play a fortuitous bounce better.
That's what happened here … the Kings just played a bounce and an ounce better.
The pity for the Hawks is this was sort of a winner-take-all game, not just in the series but the entire playoffs.
The expectation was that the Western winner would beat the Eastern champion Rangers in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Well, we know now that it's the Kings who have that opportunity,
So does that mean we're supposed to suddenly turn on the Hawks? It doesn't because the Hawks have those two Stanley Cups in four years attesting to their credibility as a franchise and as a team.
As an organization the Hawks have done just about everything correctly on and off the ice -- not everything, but just about everything -- the past seven or eight years.
The Hawks' problem is that they have done so much well that the sentiment is that they should win championships year after year.
That's impossible, of course, but when the Hawks fall short the reflex inclination is to accuse them of underachieving.
"Both teams left it out there," Quenneville said of the loss to the Kings. "Unfortunately somebody had to lose."
The Hawks were that somebody.
From top to bottom, however, they have done too much well for too long to lose the benefit of doubt after a series like this.