A season that began with so much promise has again ended much too abruptly.
Its hard to believe, but Mike Smith went into Game 6 with the ninth-best goals-against average in the playoffs and the seventh-best save percentage. After the Blackhawks fired 39 more shots his way - including a dominant first two periods - they were left with 241 for the series, and just a dozen got past him before his first Stanley Cup playoff shutout.
This series was won by a goalie -- and the system that goalie is in -- being better than what the other side could muster.
I was a little leery about this matchup when many people were preferring facing the Pacific Division champ over another first-round faceoff with Nashville. In the end, that one probably wouldnt have worked out much better. The Preds were just as difficult a matchup this season for the Hawks as these Yotes were.
Since the wounds are still a little fresh, well look more closely at what the Blackhawks face and potential decisions theyll need to make over the coming days. But with as many commitments as the organization has made to its core players, itll be interesting to watch what roster moves are made in the months ahead -- and how the labor situation might affect things - not to mention how soon the Hawks are even able to get back to work again.
There are enough things to analyze, from the special teams, to the back of the defensive corps, to the decisions thatll need to be made about which young players (or veterans) they would potentially package to get closer to what this team accomplished just two short years ago. Or whether theyll count on those youngsters upside and stay closer to the vest. Whichever way the Hawks go, there will certainly be debate.
The competition to upgrade will be fierce. Look around the landscape of the teams the Hawks now join as one-and-done. The cream of the crop in recent years doesnt want to fall further behind, either. Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit and Pittsburgh are all gone already. New teams have arrows pointing upward, moving on to the second round.
The playoffs are often a crapshoot. No guarantees, where the previous six months can often be wiped off with a clean slate. But one thing is certain over the course of a best-of-seven series: the better teams advance.
After winning four straight series two years ago, the Hawks now have to wait another year just to have a chance at winning their first one since hoisting the Cup.