It’ll hurt for a while, this loss. As Jonathan Toews said earlier in the week, championship windows are hard to come by, and they don’t stay open forever. So every year without a Stanley Cup, every season that comes to an end not with hoisting a trophy but rather with a handshake and a trudge, is an opportunity lost. In its harshest, most black-and-white terms, it’s a waste.
‘‘People forget pretty quick about the team that came up short,’’ Toews said. ‘‘We never want to be that team.’’
But there was little shame in this one, this 5-4 overtime loss to the remarkable and resilient Los Angeles Kings. Alec Martinez’s shot deflected in off of Nick Leddy’s torso at 5:47 of overtime to end the Blackhawks’ season two weeks too early, and it surely will sting for a long time to come. But the Hawks and Kings staged one of the greatest series in recent memory, and one way or another, a championship-caliber team was going to lose.
On this night, it was the Hawks, who came back from 3-1 down to force a Game 7, only to see the Kings erase three deficits to win.
‘‘I’ve lost some tough games,’’ Hawks coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘But nothing like tonight.’’
The loss brings to an end maybe the dizziest year and a half in team history, a whirlwind of success that started with a record 21-0-3 start when the lockout ended last January and didn’t stop until the Kings skated off the United Center ice as Western Conference champions on Sunday night.
In a little more than 16 months, the Hawks played 178 games. They won a Presidents’ Trophy. They won a Stanley Cup. They held a parade. They spent the shortest summer in hockey history celebrating instead of relaxing. They played a full 82-game season. Ten of them flew to Russia to play even more games in the Olympics.
Then came another grueling run, with a draining series against the hard-hitting St. Louis Blues and a surprisingly taxing six-game battle with the Minnesota Wild. Then this Western Conference final, this back-and-forth, to-the-bitter-end battle. The Hawks insisted they weren’t out of gas, but they only looked like their old selves in high-energy, dominant spurts — never for a full 60 minutes.
As a result, they couldn’t do the impossible. They couldn’t become the first team to erase a 3-1 series deficit in consecutive postseasons. They couldn’t become the first team to beat these Kings in the ultimate game (Sunday’s lineup is now a combined 83-2 in Game 7s). And they couldn’t become the first team to repeat as Stanley Cup champions in the salary-cap era, the first since the 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
But they came oh, so close.
‘‘One shot, one goal away from going to play for the Cup,’’ defenseman Duncan Keith said. ‘‘It’s just really disappointing.’’
They’ll have a longer summer now. It’ll be quieter this time, too — more time to wonder what if. They had a 2-0 lead on goals by Brandon Saad and Toews, only to see Jeff Carter and Justin Williams tie it. They had a 3-2 lead on a Patrick Sharp goal 12 seconds later, only to see Tyler Toffoli tie it. They took a 4-3 lead into the third period on another Sharp goal, only to see Marian Gaborik tie it with 7:17 left.
They had their chances to make history, to have an opportunity to make more. But there’ll be no Cup this spring. No parade. No Grant Park rally. No summer of love. Just three months of wondering, of waiting, and, mostly, of working — so they can try to do it all over again next season.
After all, much as this one stings, that window’s still open.
‘‘It’s tough. You never want to lose,’’ Toews said. ‘‘To come up short, it’s not fun. Especially knowing what we’re missing out on.’’