Rozner: Feels like end of an era for Chicago Blackhawks
Well, it was a heck of a run.
If this is indeed the end of the Chicago Blackhawks' decade of dominance, it was truly something to behold in the salary-cap era that has seen no team come close to the Hawks' feat of three Stanley Cups in six seasons.
If it's not the end, it sure feels like the beginning of the end.
The top-seeded Hawks went out in the first round for the second straight season, a stunning sweep at the hands of the Predators, who ended the series with a 4-1 victory in Nashville on Thursday night.
Since 2010, this is the fourth first-round exit (2011, 2012, 2016), but there were those three titles (2010, 2013, 2015) and in 2014 a heartbreaking Game 7, overtime loss to the Kings in the conference finals that separated the Hawks from a three-peat.
It's been pretty much all or nothing. There's been a lot of "all," but this year absolutely nothing.
It wasn't even as close as the 4-0 series score would indicate.
There's no shame in getting beat in the NHL postseason, but there's shame in failing to show up, and there were too many periods and too many games in this series when the Hawks simply didn't participate.
They scored a grand total of 3 goals in four games, only 1 at even-strength.
Duncan Keith, Artem Anisimov and Jonathan Toews all looked like they were playing hurt, and Niklas Hjalmarsson, Brent Seabrook and Johnny Oduya simply looked like the miles had caught up to them.
Hey, maybe they're hurt, too. It would be a reasonable excuse.
Oddly enough, 38-year-old Marian Hossa was the Hawks' hardest-working player in the series, if that's supposed to make any sense.
Artemi Panarin and Patrick Kane were mostly non-factors, and many of the young players looked nervous, taking their cues from veterans who either played poorly or failed to bring a typical postseason effort.
From a physical, emotional, skill and speed standpoint -- pick any category you want -- the Hawks were throttled from beginning to end.
At some point, it's really a question of whether they wanted to play more hockey, whether they were willing to go quietly, to squander an opportunity to win another Stanley Cup.
You got your answer in Game 4, when the Hawks didn't carry the play until the third period, when they finally -- finally -- found their desperation.
Games 1 and 2 in Chicago were entirely about effort and lack thereof, and in Game 3 the Hawks were not good enough or fast enough to protect a 2-goal lead in the third period.
By that time, the Preds knew they were the better team.
The Hawks never did find their desperation until it was too late, that special urgency that defined so many of the legendary comebacks of the last nine years, since they first made the playoffs in 2009.
The Hawks came out with a better effort at the start Thursday night _ at least compared to the other three games _ and still Nashville completely dominated the play, the first period scoreless only because Corey Crawford was spectacular.
It was simply a matter of time before the Preds put them away.
The Hawks even tried to push back physically and generally bounced off the Preds, who could be seen laughing at the visitors throughout Game 4.
It's enough to make you wonder how the Hawks' world got so turned upside down.
The series was pretty much an embarrassment from start to finish, but by the end Nashville was showing the three-time champs no respect at all.
And this was the team Preds coach Peter Laviolette called the "benchmark" for all teams in the NHL.
They were, for a long time by modern standards. They just aren't anymore.
Look, dynasties never end when you want them to. It's never pretty. It's always a shock.
It's on the road in a hostile environment, where fans chant insults, opposing players laugh and your players are embarrassed.
It's sad, but it's the way of things. It's just the natural way of things.
Down just 1-0 after two periods Thursday, it might as well have been 10-0. The Hawks had no chance. The season was already over.
You wonder how different this series would have been if the Hawks had made an appearance in the first two games, if they had answered the bell at home and not staked Nashville to a 2-0 lead and given the Preds all that confidence.
But it doesn't much matter now. The No. 8 seed moves on and the Hawks head for the golf course, left with a long summer to ponder their futures.
Some of these players will not be back next season -- this group will certainly never be together again -- and in many ways this series felt like the end of an extraordinary era of Blackhawks hockey.
The Hawks will have to wait 12 months to prove otherwise, to prove that isn't the new reality.
• Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM.