This was supposed to be the year.
All signs pointed up for the St. Louis Blues as the 2013-14 regular season played out. But then the injuries hit, and with those injuries came six straight losses just before the postseason that booted them from the top seed in the Central Division.
Before they knew it, the Blues found themselves in an all-too-familiar situation as they packed their gear up for good inside Chicago's visiting locker room.
"When you're playing the defending Stanley Cup champions, you have to bring your game every night, every shift, every period," Blues captain David Backes said following his team's 5-1 loss. "Finding ways to win those close games… they did it, we didn't."
After taking the first two games of their opening-round series against the Blackhawks, the Blues dropped four straight, just as they did against the Los Angeles Kings the year prior.
They had hoped this would be the year it would all change, and for a large portion of the season, it looked like the Blues would have a real shot at going a long way. They had the pieces coming in, and acquiring netminder Ryan Miller at the trade deadline was supposed to be the cherry on top.
Yet three consecutive tight losses and a third-period collapse in Game 6 shot those hopes down just two weeks into the postseason.
That's not yet an easy thing for them to process.
"Can't right now," Backes said. "Horseshoes and hand grenades, that's not more true now. Close didn't get it done. Same scenario as last year when we won two close games to start. Even Games 3 and 4 in here were close, one-goal games. You knew the margins were going to be thin and we had to play our best hockey to win four games here. We played pretty well throughout but the result is not what we desired and we have to be better."
The Blues poured their hearts into the series, and the disappointment hadn't fully hit inside their locker room.
But despite the outcome, their elimination didn't seem to take much of a hit to their confidence in their team. Although that long postseason run they had hoped for was cut short quickly, the Blues aren't doubting their potential to do something great when their next chance rolls around.
"(We are) real close," forward Steve Ott said. The character in this room is phenomenal. A little bit of a healthier team heading into the playoffs would be a scary, scary team. The character guys in this room were pretty banged up. It's not an excuse, I'm sure they're a little banged up too. But this team is real close, real close to being something special."