By Chris Emma–
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (CBS) — In the aftermath of defeat, the look on captain Jonathan Toews’s face summarized Game 7 and the end of Chicago’s Stanley Cup defense.
One of the greatest winners in modern day sports had just lost — his team failing to summon the clutch magic like so many times before — and he was devastated. The Blackhawks came up short in Game 7 of their first-round series with the Blues, losing 3-2, and words didn’t best describe their defeat. The dejection worn on the Blackhawks’ faces spoke volumes.
“Very disappointing,” Toews said, stuck second guessing those seven games of battle.
Coach Joel Quenneville’s eyes sprung to attention in his postgame press conference, held around the corner from the Blues’ victorious dressing room. Celebration was loud and clear through the doors of that quiet media room.
When St. Louis last won a Game 7, it was 1999, and Quenneville was the Blues’ head coach. A scowl crossed Quenneville as he heard the screams and cheers of the home team. Asked to summarize the feelings of a season ended early, he interjected.
“Huge disappointment for me,” Quenneville said, cutting the long-winded question short.
What more could be said? Quenneville offered no words to his team following its hard-fought loss. After all, the Blackhawks were crushed.
Hockey’s equivalent to a modern dynasty — three championships in six seasons in this parity-creating salary cap era — had lost its chance to pursue the Stanley Cup again. The greatest prize in sports will be hoisted somewhere other than Chicago, perhaps even in St. Louis.
Narratives entering this series suggested the Blackhawks would pull through and Blues would be bounced for the fourth straight year in the first round. But toss out the narratives when it comes to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Two evenly matched rivals went punch for punch until a decisive game. Another seven games would’ve been just as close.
To no surprise, the two teams were tied 2-2 past the midway point of the third period. The Blues jumped ahead when Troy Brouwer, a Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks, got in front of the net and narrowly swept the puck in on a second effort.
“Prettiest goal ever,” Brouwer shouted as he walked off the ice, fist pumping all around en route to the raucous dressing room.
Brouwer even joked he would’ve quit hockey had he not put the puck in net. Still, there was time left, and opportunities followed for the Blackhawks as they attacked on the Blues’ efforts to kill the clock.
The randomness of hockey revealed itself when Brent Seabrook — a Game 7 hero in 2013 — ripped a shot past Brian Elliott that banked off the left post, laterally off the right post and out. The laws of physics would suggest that to be nearly impossible. Such a rare deflection will haunt the Blackhawks as they enter their early offseason.
Game 7 bounced away from the Blackhawks.
“It was close,” Quenneville said.
Following a summer of celebrations, parades and parties, the Blackhawks embarked on the 2015-’16 season as a favorite to repeat as championships. Despite general manager Stan Bowman’s salary cap dance, Chicago had a roster worthy of reclaiming the Cup. Anything short of the Stanley Cup would seem to be devastating.
But the Blackhawks didn’t disappoint. In hockey, all one can do is build a strong roster, hope for few injuries during the regular season and great fortunes during the playoffs, because these games are so tight. The margin of victory and defeat is so slim.
Had Seabrook’s shot bounced to the back of the net, perhaps the Blackhawks would’ve pulled out Game 7. They easily could’ve gone on to win the Stanley Cup once again. Those fortunes weren’t on their side this time around.
“It’s a disappointing thing for fans on both sides that one of these teams (had) to go home,” Toews said.
Give credit to the Blues, who weathered an incredible seven-game series and finally moved past the first round. Heck, credit the Blackhawks, too, for quite the first-round series.
Chicago moves forward with Toews, Patrick Kane, Seabrook, Duncan Keith, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Artemi Panarin, Corey Crawford and more than enough to win the Stanley Cup in 2017. This was simply the end to one season and a long wait until the next.
Still, perspective tends to get lost after such a crushing loss.
“It’s tough right now, thinking about the game and this loss,” Keith said.
Toews admitted he kept thinking over and over that the Blackhawks would come through in the clutch, delivering a memorable win as they have so many times before. This time, it didn’t happen.
When you’re so used to winning, the losses are excruciating. Dejection set in instantly for the Blackhawks following their hard-fought Game 7 defeat, and it’s going to hurt for a while.