LOS ANGELES – The end result for Game 82 wasn't what the Blackhawks hoped but the disappointment was pretty short lived.
The first 82 are over. Time to flip the page.
Artemi Panarin scored his 31st goal of the season to get himself back into potential bonus category but the Los Angeles Kings scored late in regulation and early in overtime to beat the Blackhawks 3-2 on Saturday. The Blackhawks finished the regular season 0-2-2 in their last four. None of those four factored in the Blackhawks' place in the standings; they had the conference wrapped up last Saturday.
Now the Blackhawks look ahead, although as of this writing they still don't know who they'll play. Could be Nashville, could be Calgary. Regardless, the Blackhawks are ready for the games to count again.
"I think that energy, that ambition, that motivation is back. We have that feeling that every single moment, every single game matters. It's a lot of fun to play this time of year," said Jonathan Toews, who scored his 21st goal of the season on Saturday. "That's why we work all year to get to this point. As we've said in the past, the real season begins. Everyone wants to get back to playoff hockey."
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Coach Joel Quenneville pointed to the Blackhawks' work earlier this season that made the end easier to take.
"It would've been nice to win [Saturday] but we put ourselves in position we wanted at the start of the season. That was our motivation. It's good to be first in the division and we got the conference," he said. "Lot of hard work, some ups and downs along the way but we had a stretch here at the end where, I don't know how many games where everything was sealed so it was almost like, ‘OK, let's get ready to play for keeps.'"
The Blackhawks almost got back to the postseason on a winning note but the Kings, who will not be going to the playoffs, had other ideas. Dustin Brown scored with 55 seconds remaining in regulation and Drew Doughty scored the winner just 27 seconds into overtime.
Before the Kings' comeback, however, there was Panarin's goal. The Russian was jubilant, as that goal gave him a better chance of finishing in the top 10 among forwards in points. If he does, he'll collect $2.575 million like he did last season. As of now, he's tied for ninth with fellow Russian Vladimir Tarasenko with 74 points.
"Great pass by [Patrick Kane]. Big goal, big time for a goal as well. I think it might turn out OK," a grinning Quenneville said of Panarin's likely financial windfall.
The regular season was a successful one for the Blackhawks. They're where they want to be, with home ice throughout the Western Conference portion of the postseason. They'll go in fairly healthy – Artem Anisimov (left leg) is expected to be ready for Game 1. Niklas Hjalmarsson, who's been attending family matters at home, will return, too. The first 82 are done. Time for what Brent Seabrook called the, "fun hockey."
"Don't know if [the start] will be Thursday or Friday but we're all looking forward to it," Ryan Hartman said. "New chapter."