Last season, it all ended so suddenly. A 50-victory season made the Blackhawks buyers at the trade deadline, and the top seed in the Western Conference had them dreaming of a fourth Stanley Cup in eight seasons.
Then it was all over in a week as the Hawks were swept from the playoffs by the Predators. The shock left them numb.
This season, it has been quite the opposite. It has been over for weeks, if not months, the season gradually turning into an endless funeral procession. Corey Crawford had his fingers plugged in all the various cracks in the Hawks’ defense, and they slowly drowned in opposing shots, chances and goals once he was lost for the season after Christmas. This time, the hopelessness has left the Hawks numb.
On Tuesday, it officially ended. Oh, there are still eight games left, but the Hawks’ run of nine consecutive postseason appearances came to an end in a 5-1 loss to the Avalanche that officially eliminated them from playoff contention. Their sixth loss in their last seven games was a mere formality, the math finally catching up to reality.
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‘‘Obviously, it was one of those runs you want to keep going,’’ winger Patrick Kane said of the nine-year playoff streak. ‘‘We had a disappointing second half of the season, to say the least.’’
There’s a bright side to the misery. Much like their co-tenants at the United Center, the Bulls, the Hawks are best served at this point by losing. Their loss, combined with the Oilers’ victory against the Hurricanes, moved the Hawks down one spot in the overall league standings. They currently have the seventh-best odds of winning the draft lottery and selecting Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin.
Of course, that means nothing to the players in the dressing room.
‘‘It sucks, and it’s kind of embarrassing,’’ said defenseman Connor Murphy, who has missed the playoffs in all five of his NHL seasons.
This game followed a familiar plot line: The Hawks scored first and went on to lose anyway. Brent Seabrook’s power-play goal staked them to a 1-0 lead, but the Avs scored three goals in the second period (two on the power play) and twice in the final two minutes to put the Hawks out of their misery.
It was the 27th time in the last 36 games the Hawks had scored first. They’re 12-12-3 in those games. By comparison, in games Corey Crawford started earlier this season, they were 11-3-1 when scoring first.
‘‘You’re always going to have key injuries, years where things go against you,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said. ‘‘We’ve always been able to overcome them and find ways to rectify some tough situations and get back on track. This year, we’ve been unable to do it.’’
The focus now shifts to next season. And while the season has been long lost, hope isn’t. Quenneville only had to look at the other bench to find reason for optimism. The Avs were the worst team in the NHL by a mile last season with 48 points in 82 games — 61 points behind the Hawks. Now they sit in the first wild-card spot in the West.
‘‘It’s a situation we’ve never been in,’’ Quenneville said. ‘‘For a long time, we’ve been in a good spot from start to finish for a majority of the seasons. But what we’re seeing is you can have an off-year and next year can be right back at the top.’’
It’s possible, but it won’t be easy. Not in a Central Division that keeps getting better, not with a core that keeps getting older.
‘‘Who knows what’s going to happen?’’ Kane said. ‘‘That’ll be left up to management and coaches — and us as players, obviously — throughout the offseason to rectify what went wrong this season and make sure it doesn’t happen again.’’
Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.