By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) That didn’t just happen. Did it? Nah.
After the first-round series between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, this isn’t how you’re supposed to wake up the day after Game 7.
More hockey at the United Center should be scheduled. You’re supposed to sweat through your Patrick Sharp sweater for another May. This is supposed to be a column about how those gosh darn Blackhawks once again work their very best with a gun to their heads, how their core is still too good to succumb to collective brain farts throughout the series and how the Blues figured out another way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Hawks don’t schedule tee times in April.
“It just doesn’t really feel right,” star winger Patrick Kane said after the Blackhawks fell 3-2 to the Blues in Game 7 on Monday night. “Pretty quick right after to put everything into words.”
You’re telling me. I slept on it and still want to file a tap dance on the Blues’ grave.
Kane became the first American to lead the NHL in points in a regular season and assured himself the Hart Trophy and probably at least one more story in a major publication on how he performed despite adversity. Now the league’s best and most controversial player has a longer summer of idle time about to happen.
It’s like your sports brain tells you that you need a scapegoat. Somebody has to wear your ire. Kane’s fellow likely award winner, rookie winger Artemi Panarin, compiled an amazing season and solid series performance overall. Game 7 for him was quietly dough that didn’t rise, though. Yet there’s no sour feelings for the Bread Man.
Red-headed stepchild Corey Crawford didn’t lose the series, try as the rebel faction of guerilla Facebook commenters might to get him shot from a cannon into the lake. Jonathan Toews had zero goals against St. Louis. Zero. But he’s Captain Serious. He’s your rock that will take a lot more underachieving than that to kill your faith.
This all doesn’t even feel eulogy-worthy. Is there even a sense of mourning right now? You’re not sitting shiva for the 2015-16 Blackhawks. This is some Seinfeldian poison envelopes death notice — like, oh, that happened. Sucks, huh?
Sure, the premature end to the season is disappointing, but unless you’re one of the really vocal Blackhawks blind loyalists who puts sports above food and human intimacy, are you dysfunctional today? Because there was a vibe to this series, particularly when the Blues were up 3-1, that while they were fully expected to blow that lead, if they managed to close out the Blackhawks, it would be suboptimal but not crushing. Like it didn’t even happen.
Or at least the heartbreak didn’t.
Maybe that speaks to a certain spoiling Chicagoans have been so lucky to be part of with this team and should be appreciative of. Maybe it was a certain fatigue in a season that was too often not enough about actual hockey. While the conscious doesn’t believe the season is over, maybe the back of the mind is a bit relieved. Perish the thought, right? But after another Stanley Cup season in 2015 — the third in six years, let’s remember — there’s a sense that a fun whirlwind excursion has ended, and it’s good to be home nestled in the old familiar Chicago sports scars of coming up short.
“There’s always second-guessing and thinking what you could’ve done differently,” Toews said. “It’s kind of tough to think of what you could’ve done differently in those situations to alter the result.”
Woulda-coulda-shouldas for sure, especially in a playoff series that goes the distance. But the Hawks were a bad bounce away, a double-post clang away from one more win in that series. And then we’re sitting here today talking about how another totally probable improbable Hawks comeback happened again.
We’re not talking about that, yet there’s not much of that empty feeling today. Which could be self-medicating disbelief, could be a hangover for previous success. Hopefully it’s a collective fan maturity, an understanding that the Hawks shot themselves in the foot too many times this series against a good-but-beatable team.
“Tough way to go out,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We had the perfect setup there and we did exactly what we’re not supposed to do … and it’s in our net. And it’s game, set, match.”
The Blackhawks didn’t overcome themselves for once. And therefore there’s not much to lament. Still not sure it’s over, though. Is it?
“Yeah,” Kane said. “Maybe one too many times in the hole.”
Yep, that happened.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.