One day later, Hawks’ Game 7 loss still stings

One day later, it still hasn’t settled in. The 2015-16 Chicago Blackhawks season is over. Their dreams of becoming the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions — about the only aspect of the Detroit Red Wings run that the Hawks haven’t matched— were dashed. The next Blackhawks game that matters is about five-and-a-half months away.

No, no it doesn’t.

The frustrating part is how close the Hawks were to escaping this series even after falling behind 3-1 after Game 4. If the Hawks forwards had been better at covering the points in the first period those two shots from the point may not have ended up in the net. If the Hawks offense had capitalized on more of its golden opportunities, they may not have needed that late tying goal. If Artem Anisimov or Erik Gustafsson had been within a country mile of Troy Brouwer, perhaps he doesn’t finish get a second and third chance to put home that rebound.

And then there was this.

I don’t think I’d need more than my two hands to count how many times I’ve seen that happen in an NHL game, and it happened TWICE to the Hawks in this freaking series.

They were so, so close. But close enough, isn’t, in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and on to the next round go the St. Louis Blues while the Hawks head for the golf course.

There are built-in excuses for the Hawks’ failings in this series, of course, most notably being the absurd amount of hockey they’ve played since the NHL came back from the 2012-13 lockout leading to the team simply running out of gas on Monday night. And I’ve seen a ton of people point to the Hawks recent glutton of success as a way to soften the landing as we freefall into sports-induced depression.

But that doesn’t quite do it for me. This loss sucks. It sucked when it happened last night, it sucks right now, and it’s going to suck for the rest of the offseason. The three Cup victories have been great, but a fourth one would have been even better. (And then a fifth one would be better than that).

This is the time to be greedy. The Hawks have an incredible two-way forward and captain in Jonathan Toews, giving the team a legit No. 1 center that so many teams do not. Patrick Kane just had the best season of his career, with both he and Toews in the middle of their primes. They’ve got a defenseman in Duncan Keith who is one of the game’s best and would go into the Hall of Fame tomorrow if he retired today. And their goalie, Corey Crawford, just had another Vezina-quality season and has only gotten better in the last three years although no one ever seems to notice. All four were healthy for this postseason and there’s no guarantee that will happen next year, or the year after that, or the year after that.

It’s a missed opportunity with a very real cost, specifically: two promising youngsters in LW Marko Dano and C Philip Danault as well as a first, second and third round pick in upcoming drafts. That was the price GM Stan Bowman paid at the trade deadline to load this team up for a Cup run. It’s worked in years past. It didn’t work this year.

We haven’t heard the last from this group, of course. And a lengthy offseason for the first time in four years should have them re-fueled and fresh for the 2016-17 campaign.

But right now? This sucks.

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