TELANDER: An open-ended ache for the Blackhawks
BY RICK TELANDER Sports Columnist June 1, 2014 11:40PM
Updated: June 2, 2014 12:21AM
It was sunny and 85 degrees in Chicago when the Blackhawks went down into the dark, cool United Center to play hockey.
Maybe the outdoors screamed summer. But this Game 7 of the Western Conference final hollered cold blood as both the Hawks and the Los Angeles Kings went for the kill.
Well, only one team died.
Chicago, pack your (body) bags.
Not for a trip to New York for the Stanley Cup Final against the upstart Rangers. That would have been too much fun.
Nope, pack ’em for a long summer off, with only the Cubs (gag), the White Sox (zzzz), the Bulls (not playing), the Bears (lifting weights) and the echo of might-have-been to sustain us.
In yet another thrilling overtime game, the Kings beat the Hawks 5-4, sticking the (Chelsea) dagger deep into our beloved hockey team’s heart. Once again, a 2-0 lead did not hold up for the Hawks, who lost Game 2 after being up two goals.
This one was tougher to take than that collapse because the Hawks were ahead in this game 2-0, then 3-2, then 4-3, before losing on Alec Martinez’s shot that glanced off the Hawks’ Nick Leddy and over goalie Corey Crawford’s shoulder 5:47 into overtime.
Of course, this one hurt more.
As Hawks winger Patrick Sharp said earlier, ‘‘It’s a one-game playoff.’’
Yep, and the Hawks, once down 3-1 in this series, rallied valiantly to get to this Game 7, but now the dynasty-building has been cut short. Go to the Cup Final and win, and the Hawks would have snagged their third championship in five years. That’s serious.
As it is, making it this far is pretty good. But it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth because nothing is guaranteed for the future — can you believe Boy Wonders Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are 25 and 26, respectively? Remember when they were whisker-less teens?
They’re not old by any means.
And they were both excellent during these playoffs. Kane had two assists in this game, and Toews had a goal. They’ll be back, but nothing is certain.
Because here’s the thing — the Kings will be back, too. As will the Rangers and every other budding, wannabe dynasty.
You watched this heartbreaker and you couldn’t figure out how the lead could always slip away. Critics say Crawford is a mediocre goalie, but how is he supposed to stop shots that his own teammates deflect beyond his fast-twitch fibers?
Hawks Marian Hossa, Bryan Bickell, Brent Seabrook and Kris Versteeg did not have good games — or a Kings series — either.
There are so many ways a hockey game can be won or lost — the randomness is what almost destroyed those watching these last few games — that the oddity of it all sometimes seems more important than the skill.
Pre-game, we had more Game 7 historical information than you could shake a curved stick at. We knew the Hawks were 6-5 in Game 7s going back to 1953. We knew the Kings were 6-4, going back to 1968. We knew Crawford was 1-1, career. We even knew home teams were 91-64 (.587) all-time in Game 7s in the Stanley Cup playoffs, going back to the Pleistocene Era or thereabouts.
What did any of it mean? Nothing. Each game is a small history tucked neatly in on itself.
Hawks coach Joel Quenneville could barely be heard afterward.
‘‘I’m sure we’ll be excited about the fall,’’ he said, before saying how much this hurt.
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick laughed at his team’s ability to come back: ‘‘Somebody described us as a bunch of cockroaches.’’
Alas, it’s too late for an exterminator.