Days later, Chicago hockey fans continue to search for answers after one of the most heartbreaking defeats in Blackhawks history.
There is no simple explanation, but the Hawks probably lost the Western Conference finals when they failed to hang onto Game 2 and then played a couple of uninspired matches in Los Angeles.
Throughout the series, as was the case in the first two rounds, the Hawks made uncharacteristic mental mistakes, very likely the result of so many difficult and emotional games the last two years.
The Kings were sharper, and they played smarter. They also played simpler.
There probably isn't a simpler system in the league than the one Darryl Sutter plays in Los Angeles, which is not an indictment of the Hawks. It's just the way it is. Simpler means fewer mistakes.
They play a simple penalty kill and a simple power play, with a good entry and guys with the size and speed to chase down the puck.
They play a generic 1-2-2 up front and in the neutral zone, and a very clean breakout in their own end.
The Kings are big and fast. They like to get pucks behind your defense and force your players to turn and chase the puck, and no defenseman in his right mind wants to turn and chase the puck -- especially when he knows he's going to take a beating.
Big people squish little people. Like it or not, it's an NHL fact of life.
It definitely had an effect on the Hawks, who had already played two physical series before they met the Kings.
Johnny Oduya and Nick Leddy, specifically, had more trouble the longer the series went, less interested in getting hit with every passing period. Oduya was so beat up, coach Joel Quenneville said Tuesday, that Oduya might not have been available for the Final had the Hawks advanced.
Sheldon Brookbank did a nice job during the postseason whenever asked, and he's more physically able to handle the Kings' size, so you wonder if sitting him was the best decision the Hawks could have made.
Leddy only got worse as the series went on -- and on the series-winning goal he made a couple of mistakes.
Los Angeles came in 3-on-4 when Leddy got the stick chopped out of his hands by Justin Williams -- which should have been a penalty. When he went to retrieve his stick, everyone shifted and the Hawks were out of position.
Marcus Kruger chased behind the net. Michal Rozsival tried to catch Williams in the corner and was late getting back to the front. Ben Smith came down low to cover for Kruger and was late getting back to the point, from which Alec Martinez fired the game-winner.
Leddy was stuck in no man's land, not close enough to Tyler Toffoli in the slot, and not close enough to Corey Crawford to square up the shot and block it properly. It hit Leddy on an angle and bounced past Crawford.
The Hawks played very conservative in the third, trying to protect a 1-goal lead, but with less than eight minutes remaining and Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa already in deep, Bryan Bickell went into the same area with his linemates below the rings when he should have stayed high, leaving all three deep when the Kings broke out.
Hossa got back to make it a 3-on-3, but both Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson went for Dustin Brown, the puck carrier, near the blue line, when Hjalmarsson should have stayed with Marian Gaborik, who bolted for the net and was left all alone for the rebound and the tying goal after Brown shot the puck.
Then there is the Hawks' power play, which has the slowest approach and entry in the league, which makes no sense when you have burners like Keith, Leddy and Patrick Kane. The entry is atrocious, and without an entry you have no power play.
Defensively, the Hawks front opposing forwards and try to block shots, but when you miss the puck your goalie has no chance on the shot, and rebounds weren't cleaned up as per normal for a usually solid defensive team.
The Hawks were tired at the end. Keith and Brent Seabrook were on fumes in Game 7, and it was not their best work.
The bench was shortened on offense and defense, because Quenneville had a lack of trust, while Sutter was more willing to use more players.
The Hawks refused to admit fatigue played a role, because they don't have a habit of making excuses.
But in the end it was a factor, and it's something else for them to ponder this summer -- a summer that started two weeks too early for the Hawks.
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