The Chicago Blackhawks were looking to become the first team in 16 years to repeat as Stanley Cup champions, but their quest ended abruptly on Sunday night as the Los Angeles Kings used an overtime goal by Alec Martinez to beat Chicago by a score of 5-4.
As soon as the puck dropped to the ice in the back of the net, Hawks fans started weighing in on the season that the team had. Whether it was disappointment in the fact that the team had blown three separate leads in Game 7 of the series, or irritation that head coach Joel Quenneville stubbornly skated only three forward lines in the contest, or optimism that the team is still heading in the right direction despite the defeat, fans’ emotions ran the full gamut, and it’s hard to blame them.
After all, this is a Blackhawks team that has experienced its fair share of adversity this season. While they coasted through good chunks of the season with relative good health, they got socked with back-to-back injuries at the end of the campaign that ended up derailing their hopes of a division title. Losing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews were two big body blows, and even though the team got some great production from guys like Jeremy Morin in their stars’ absence, it did cast a bit of a shadow on the team as they prepared to enter the playoffs.
Those doubts prospered through the first two games of the team’s first round series, as they dropped two straight games to the St. Louis Blues. The Hawks then went on a run of six straight victories, knocking off the Blues and starting their series against the Minnesota Wild with a 2-0 lead before adversity reared its ugly head again. The team’s offense began to slow down in Games 3 and 4 of that series, leading to a tied duel and a desperate Hawks team looking for some Game 5 magic.
Once again, the Blackhawks rose to the occasion when needed the most. Kane’s goal to win Game 6 not only lifted the Hawks to a berth in the conference finals, but it also elevated his standing in the discussion over who is Chicago’s most exciting athlete.
Then, as the conference final wore on, the questions about the Hawks’ title chances began again. The Kings grabbed a 3-1 series lead, and many fans wrote the team off.
Obviously, we all know how that turned out. The Hawks won Games 5 and 6 to force a Game 7, and they came within a whisper of advancing to the Cup Final. Martinez had other ideas though, as he deflected Justin Williams’ shot off of Nick Leddy and ultimately into the net to end Chicago’s season.
While fans are entitled to feel however they want about the season as a whole, the reality is that the Blackhawks took on an incredibly difficult challenge and were very nearly able to achieve their goal of repeating as champions. In a league where parity has never been more prevalent, the Hawks very nearly overcame the odds and got back to the Cup Final, where they would have been heavy favorites.
Even with the sting of the loss still fresh in their minds, Hawks fans should be proud of the way this team competed and scratched for every inch they got. After a season in which the Blackhawks seemingly cruised to victory, this struggle was an inspiring one, as the team proved what it’s made of. There will be tweaks and tune-ups made to the roster over the coming months, but this team’s nucleus is secure, and they will rightfully be considered championship contenders when the first puck drops in October.