Game 7 had barely finished, the overtime defeat still stinging too much for the Blackhawks to think back on the whole season and on everything they did during it.
“Not yet,” Ben Smith said when he could look back and appreciate everything. “It’s been a pretty special year, going back to last June. Obviously we didn’t want it to end like this. We felt good about ourselves coming into the game and we’re disappointed with how it ended.”
“Disappointed” and “frustrated” were said a lot after the Blackhawks’ 5-4 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Sunday. One word that shouldn’t be uttered: “failure.” For as much as the Blackhawks fell short of the ultimate goal, they hardly had a failure of a season.
The Blackhawks were one bounce, one break, one goal away from being back in the Stanley Cup Final for the second consecutive season. The Blackhawks played as big a part as the powerful Kings did in their demise, as team-wide defensive struggles had them giving up a lot of goals. Still, the Blackhawks were that close. And considering how difficult it is to repeat, the Blackhawks should be pretty happy with what they did this season.
“I couldn’t be more proud of our guys, the way we competed in tough situations, down 3-1 (in the series) and one shot away from trying to do it again,” coach Joel Quenneville said late Sunday night. “We were pretty close to getting to the big dance. Look how close we were, how competitive it was. It’s a tough league. Tough thing to do, to win the Cup.”
Indeed, it is. There’s a reason why no one has repeated since 1998, when the Detroit Red Wings capped their consecutive two-year reign. The Wings almost pulled it off again in 2009 but the Pittsburgh Penguins beat them in seven games. The Kings were looking to do it last season before the Blackhawks thwarted them in the Western Conference Final.
The Kings were pretty beat up, pretty worn out by that series in the spring of 2013. The Blackhawks weren’t giving much credence to fatigue right after Sunday’s game, and Quenneville wasn’t specific when asked if the Blackhawks were battling injuries, other than to praise Andrew Shaw for coming off his right-leg injury.
“It’s no different than any other years. Everyone has some annoyances out there. Getting through it, playing through it,” he said. “(Shaw) was a warrior type of guy, he came back and gave us a nice jolt. Other than that, I don’t think it was different than other years.”
The Blackhawks will clean out their lockers on Tuesday, so perhaps they’ll be more forthcoming on if fatigue/injuries played a part in their early exit. It wouldn’t be surprising if they did.
Whatever the reasons, however, the Blackhawks had a tremendous 2013-14. Sure, they could’ve played better defensively against the Kings. Switching up defensemen didn’t work, Corey Crawford had better series and the Kings, who created plenty on their own, also took advantage of a lot of Hawks’ woes.
Still, they were that close…
The elimination wound was too fresh on Sunday night to step back and appreciate everything the Blackhawks have done. Time heals those wounds. It’ll also give them the opportunity to see this team, while disappointed and frustrated, was nowhere near being a failure.
“People forget pretty quick about the team that came up short. We never want to be that team. You can learn something from it but right now we’re not going to accept that or think about that,” Jonathan Toews said. “It’s tough. You never want to lose. When you get the chance to win a Cup and then win another one, you see how great it feels and how amazing it is to be a part of a group like that that gives everything to get the result you want, especially when the city of Chicago rallies around you. To come up short, it’s not fun, especially knowing what we’re missing out on.”