It probably took until today, when the Blackhawks had their closing meetings, their final wrap-up interviews with the media.
Their postseason, their shortest since 2012, is really over.
“It's just one of those real empty feelings. It still kind of feels like maybe we have a couple days off and then we'll get back to saying again,” Patrick Kane said. “Pretty tough feeling. A lot of us love showing up to the rink, playing hockey and getting ready for a game especially this time of year. It'll be tough to watch and see someone else win the award this year.”
The Blackhawks felt they had the pieces in place for another long playoff run, possibly even being the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in the late 1990s. It wasn’t to be, but general manager Stan Bowman said it wasn’t for lack of trying.
"Certainly proud of the effort we gave,” he said. “We played (the Blues) 12 times this year, 11 of the games were one-goal games. So obviously it was a very even series. When you play a good team like that sometimes you come out on the short end, not through lack of effort. But your goal is to win, and when you don't you're disappointed.”
The Blackhawks entered this season a little depleted following another post-Cup, salary-cap purge. There were deficiencies at forward and defense that hadn’t been there in recent seasons. Still, the Blackhawks thought they had enough to go on another run, especially after getting Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann at the deadline. But the four-line consistency that’s long been a part of the Blackhawks was missing. Young defensemen had up-and-down moments throughout the season, so the onus remained on Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson.
“It’s been a long, long time (since) we finished this early. Before the trade deadline, when we picked up new guys, we were excited and we said we could go far again. Obviously St. Louis played great hockey. We fought back and (lost) Game 7 by one goal,” Hossa said. “It’s tough to lose in the first round. But on the other hand, now it’s over, everybody’s going to have a good, long summer to recharge and be fresher for next year, the next push.”
Indeed, the Blackhawks will get ample time to rest and recuperate. They haven’t had much time to do either over these last three years, and you wonder if playing that much hockey caught up with some of the core players. Most of that core will return. Maybe Andrew Shaw is gone, as the team’s financial situation will make it tough to keep him. But there are still plenty remaining, and the extra rest could help them make sure this long offseason isn’t repeated.
“Get some rest now, try to recover as best we can and get ready for next year,” Seabrook said. “We know we’ve got a good team going into next season and a chance to compete, so we want to have a long playoff next year.”