After heartbreaking loss to Blues, Blackhawks deal with abrupt end to the season

Associated Press

After heartbreaking loss to Blues, Blackhawks deal with abrupt end to the season

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ locker room was just about empty. The few players who were in the room following the team’s Game 7 loss were understandably stunned.

After three seasons of playing to at least the Western Conference finals – with two of those seasons ending with Stanley Cups – the Blackhawks were done earlier than they expected.

As Patrick Kane said, “It just doesn’t really feel right.”

Nevertheless, that’s the reality for the Blackhawks, who were eliminated 3-2 by Central Division foe St. Louis Monday night. A season filled with high expectations and potential was finished in April.

“That’s the division we’re in, the conference we’re in, the best in the game. You have to win four series against tough teams and tough opponents and we had the toughest matchup you could have faced in the first round,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That’s the draw and we didn’t get it done.”

Considering the Blackhawks’ success in recent years, this abrupt exit comes as a disappointment. But was it a complete surprise? As good as the Blackhawks’ regular-season record was, there were certain trends forming all season that made one wonder if they could repeat.

Patrick Kane was stellar throughout, earning an Art Ross Trophy for the most productive regular season of his career. Corey Crawford was too, and he led the league with his seven shutouts. Artemi Panarin was exactly what the Blackhawks hoped he would be: A boost to the offense who found an immediate connection with Kane.

But there were also inconsistencies. The Blackhawks’ usual four-line rotation was difficult to attain. Their defensive depth was depleted. The players they acquired at the trade deadline (Andrew Ladd, Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann) didn’t bring what the Blackhawks were hoping they would (in Weise’s case, he didn’t get his real opportunity until late in the first round).

Couple all of that with the Blackhawks facing an improved Blues team, and here we are.

If you’re a hockey fan, the Blackhawks-Blues series supplied all you could have hoped for: Great goaltending, tremendous overall play, fantastic finishes and six of seven games being decided by one goal. I could go back on my soapbox of why this format is cheating us – this series was Western Conference final-worthy, and it’s a damn shame one team had to be eliminated. But that’s another story.

If you’re a Blackhawks fan, you’re feeling a little hollow today. Even though this season’s Blackhawks weren’t as deep as the 2013 and 2014-15 squads, you get used to seeing them pull games – even series – out of the fire. This season, it wasn’t meant to be.

The Blackhawks will deal with salary cap fun again this offseason. They’ll pay Panarin his performance bonuses; those bonuses will constrict the cap even more and will likely cost the Blackhawks another key player – possibly Andrew Shaw. They’ll once again look to Rockford to fill voids and they’ll look for their core to lead them again in 2016-17.

The end came a lot sooner than the Blackhawks expected. As Kane said, it doesn’t feel right. The Blackhawks have found a lot of success lately with the right combination of core and supporting cast. This season, it just didn’t work.

“It’s obviously weird,” Jonathan Toews said. “At the end of the day, I think a lot of people recognize this as two teams with the potential to go far and obviously someone had to go home. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to go deep again.”

All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens


All eyes on Blackhawks defensemen as prospect camp opens

The second wave of Blackhawks defensemen is on the way. That's exactly where all the attention was when prospect camp opened up Monday at MB Ice Arena.

Nicolas Beaudin. Adam Boqvist. Henri Jokiharju. Ian Mitchell. Call it the Big Four. Where are they all at in their development? When will they be ready to make an NHL impact? Who's the most pro ready? 

Lots of questions. Those will slowly start to get answered and it begins now.

While there may not necessarily be an open competition among the group right away, there's certainly a desire to make a strong first impression in front of the upper brass that included Stan Bowman, John McDonough and Joel Quenneville watching on Day 1.

"Every NHL team has a lot of good defensemen prospects, so I mean obviously when you want to go out there you want to showcase yourself as best as you can," Mitchell said. "Obviously you want to be the best defenseman here so that's my goal going into this, I want to prove to everyone that I'm a good defenseman, I deserve to play at the next level. Obviously there's lots of good players here, but you're trying to all succeed."

Said Beaudin: "There's a lot of competition. There's a lot of good, young defensemen. I think you just need to be different when you play when you show what you can do."

Said Boqvist: "I'm trying to be better every day. Of course I will play in the NHL one day and win Stanley Cups, so that's my mindset."

The theme? Focus on your own game, take what you learn out of this week and apply those tools in your game when advancing your development next season. The rest will take care of itself.

Mitchell will go back to Denver for his sophomore campaign to continue his development. Beaudin is expected to return to the QMJHL with the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Boqvist signed with the OHL's London Knights, where he will look to get accustomed to the North American style of play.

For Jokiharju, the goal is different. This is his second development camp. He signed an entry-level contract in June. Making the big club is a real goal and a legitimate possibility for a Blackhawks team looking for young, impact defensemen immediately.

"I think if Henri has a really good summer of training, comes into camp, I certainly thinks he gets a good look," Blackhawks vice president of amateur scouting Mark Kelley told NBC Sports Chicago last month.

Jokiharju showed poise and confidence with and without the puck during drills, like someone who knows this is only the first step towards that ultimate goal.

"Yeah," Jokiharju responded when asked if the expectation is to make it to the NHL this season. "You want to set the bar high, you don't want to set the bar too low. I want to dream big and that's the dream."

That's the dream for everyone. When that happens, it's up to them. This week is a chance to set an early tone.

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goalie Ray Emery dies in early morning drowning

Former Blackhawks goaltender Ray Emery was identified as the victim in an early morning drowning on Sunday at the Hamilton Harbour, Hamilton Police confirmed. He was 35.

According to the Hamilton Spectator, Emery and his friends jumped in the water around 6:30 a.m., but Emery never resurfaced. His body was recovered later in the afternoon.

Emery played in the NHL for 11 seasons, two of which came with the Blackhawks from 2011-13, where he served as a backup goaltender to Corey Crawford.

In 2013, he teammated up with Crawford to win the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goaltender(s) with the fewest goals against in a single season, before going on to capture his first Stanley Cup. During that season, Emery went 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals against average, .922 save percentage and three shutouts.

The Blackhawks issued this statement following the confirmation:

The Chicago Blackhawks organization was deeply saddened to hear of Ray Emery’s passing. We extend our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. The Blackhawks will fondly remember Ray as a fierce competitor, a good teammate and a Stanley Cup champion.

The hockey community took to Twitter to offer their condolences when news began to spread: