If you said in mid-December that the Blackhawks' playoff chances would come down to the final week of the NHL regular season, the city of Chicago would've absolutely taken that. But at the same time, it's difficult not to look back at the schedule and point to certain stretches where it could've changed their fortunes.
Was it the pair of eight-game losing streaks? Was it going 0-1-2 against the lowly Los Angeles Kings? Was it coming up empty during a crucial weekend in February against Colorado and Dallas? Maybe allowing the Avalanche to pick up three of four points in back-to-back games in late March? A shutout loss in Arizona?
Pick your poison.
"You could look at a lot of them and say if we would've won this one or won a couple of these games it could've been a little bit different," Patrick Kane said. "You look at the two LA games, you look at playing Arizona in Arizona, you look at maybe taking one from Colorado, all of those games we needed points. So yeah, tough to give those up. And then those other teams are getting points too, so it hurts twice as much. But that's why you play I guess."
The Western Conference was bizarre this season. The Blackhawks clawed back into the playoff race twice after their hopes were seemingly nonexistent. Every team that needed to lose started losing while the Blackhawks started winning.
And then down the stretch, every team above them started winning and the Blackhawks couldn't quite keep up with the pace. But in the end, they never put themselves in a spot where they were legitimately inside the playoff picture — for more than 30 minutes. Every game from March on was approached as a must-win.
“Even if you have a better start to the season than we did and you find yourself in that mix of teams, it’s not easy," Jonathan Toews said. "You look at our month of March, the amount of hockey we played, the amount of travel — you’re not really putting yourself in a great position to be able to thrive and feel comfortable that you’re sitting in a good spot for a playoff spot. Having said that, there were games that were on the line that were close and we just didn’t find ways to win when it counted.
"You think back to the Vancouver game and Colorado and even a couple nights ago against Winnipeg — you find ways to get those two points, no one is surprised if you come out on top and find a way to win and next thing you know you’re still in the hunt for a playoff spot these last three games. It’s disappointing we didn’t get the job done when it counted.”
That's what makes a slow start in the first half so difficult to overcome. Because there's so much parity, emptying the gas tank in the second half is taxing both mentally and physically, and it's happening at the same time every other team is taking it to another gear as they ramp up for the playoffs and make their final push.
But it all comes back to the two losing streaks before Christmas for the Blackhawks, who had a chance to put themselves in a more favorable situation after the holiday break. That's 16 games out of 82 where they picked up only two out of a possible 32 points. And teams ultimately can't survive that in the NHL these days.
"We had a good start, we just had a couple eight-game losing streaks and that just kills you," Kane said. "If you have one of them it kills you. If you have two of them it's just tough to come back from. As well as we've played the last couple months, obviously it wasn't good enough."Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Blackhawks easily on your device.