CHICAGO – Imagine the collective silence of 21,636 stunned Blackhawks fans.
Now, imagine the sound of hockey sticks banging against the visitors’ bench in celebration.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
That’s what the end of the Hawks’ season sounded like Monday.
The Phoenix Coyotes blanked the Hawks, 4-0, in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals to win their first playoff series since the franchise left Winnipeg in 1996. Meanwhile, the Hawks headed home after their second first-round exit in as many years.
This was not the type of ending that anybody on the Hawks had in mind. They lost all three home games in the postseason and managed only 12 goals on 241 shots during the series.
In Game 6, the Hawks lost by four goals despite a 39-20 advantage in shots on goal. Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith earned the game’s No. 1 star for his shutout, while the Hawks unraveled in the final period with Jimmy Hayes and Patrick Kane receiving misconducts.
“It’s a tough way for things to end,” Hawks forward Patrick Sharp said.
One by one, the Hawks lined up to shake hands with the Coyotes after the final horn. Once they returned to their locker room, all they could do was shake their heads.
“It’s frustrating,” Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. “You work all summer, you work all year to get in the playoffs. You can look at it any which way, but at the end of the day, it’s not good enough. We need to get better. We need to be better.”
The Hawks were a tough team to figure out this season.
Every time they went on a hot streak and expectations soared, they would reel off a string of unbelievably frustrating losses. And every time it looked as if all hope was lost, they would regain their composure and look capable of making a run at the Stanley Cup.
The same was true in a hard-fought series that featured a record-tying five overtime games. Until the final 10 or 12 minutes of Game 6, the Hawks thought they would be all right.
“We had high hopes for this team this year,” Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “We know with those hopes come a lot of pressure, as well.
“We went through some tough times this year, and we always seemed to come out better and stronger as a team. Being down, 3-1, in the series, there was no doubt we were going to find a way and come back and win this in Game 7. We were cut short a game, I guess.”
In the end, the Hawks were cut short by a less talented but more patient team.
A roster built on speed and skill is great during the regular season, but the NHL playoffs are dominated by strength and stamina. The Coyotes joined fellow defensive-minded teams such as the St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators in the Western Conference semifinals.
Maybe it’s time for Hawks general manager Stan Bowman to rethink his strategy. Maybe it’s time to think about adding a few more big hitters and subtracting a couple of speed skaters.
Sharp politely sidestepped a question about what changes might be needed next season.
“That’s something we’ll obviously look at,” Sharp said. “We’ve got great coaches and management and leaders in here. But it’s too early right now.”
As for this season, it’s too late.
• Tom Musick covers Chicago sports for Shaw Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow his hockey reporting on Twitter @Hawks_Insider.